DESPITE ECONOMIC SLUMP SAIPAN FISHING BUSINESS FLOURISHES

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By Lindablue F. Romero

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (February 4, 2000 – Saipan Tribune)---So what if the tourism economy is down? The fishing business is not just surviving; in fact, it is doing well.

As more local people have become health conscious, the demand for fish has increased, something which is difficult to imagine especially on this island where Spam and barbecue have become a part of their daily meals.

"It's a good business, although our margin of profit is very small because we mainly buy our fish from the local fishermen," said Edward Calvo, operations manager of Island Farmers Market.

The store barely advertises and the location is far from the main road but everyday the market has customers lining up outside even before it opens at 8:00 a.m. Immediately, one notices the cleanliness of the place. Interestingly, the market that sells 300 lbs. of fish everyday, does not smell either.

Fish not sold are disposed of by the market in various ways. They sell it cooked. Two fried fish, plus sweet potato or yam and vegetables cost $5.00. The store also sells Anistukin or preserved Atulai. They make their own dried fish, too.

On weekends, Mr. Calvo sees to it that he has a big supply of tuna for sashimi and barbecue. For Chinese New Year, parrot fish and grouper are in great demand.

"We always make it a point to have high quality of food because we value the integrity of our business," said Mr. Calvo.

Almost two years after he left the Department of Public Safety, former Deputy Commissioner Lino S. Tenorio is enjoying his retirement as he manages his own business -- Madda Flyer Fish Retail. You won't miss Mr. Tenorio's fish stand in front of his grandparents' home in Garapan as you drive on Beach Road.

What started as a hobby has become a profitable business. He has seven workers, mostly Filipinos. To meet the demands of their customers, he has acquired three boats for his fishing operation. Since he goes out fishing with his workers, his wife Levie and daughter Cherie help in running the business.

"We cater to a lot of hotels and restaurants on the island. We are very reliable because we try as much as possible to provide what the customer wants," Mr. Tenorio said.

For example, if the customer wants bottom fish or opakapaka, his men will look for that the following day. He supplies onaga to Japanese restaurants, which sells for $5 per pound.

The supply of reef fish is 180 to 200 lbs. a day, while the tuna catch is about 100 to 200 lbs. On Thursday, Friday and Saturday, they try to get as much fish as possible to sell to their customers.

Whatever profit he is making, Mr. Tenorio uses it to acquire more equipment for fishing, to make sure that the business is efficiently run. "I don't want to take any chances. I want to deliver what the customer wants at that moment," he said.

Established almost 17 years ago, Diego's Mart is probably one of the oldest fish markets on the island.

Owned by Diego and Vicky Benavente, the store is popular for its regular supply of tuna and mahi mahi. Customers can even ask the staff to clean the fish without any extra charge. The store sells sashimi too, provided you make your order a day before.

The owners have their own boat that goes out into the sea for trawl and bottom fishing, Monday to Saturday. Although Diego's Mart has seen a decline in the business by about 50 percent, the regular local clients are still with them.

"Everyday, they never fail to come and check the store to buy their supply of tuna," said Bong Dizon, store supervisor.

Influenced by his own parents and uncle Juan Tenorio, Diego and Vicky decided to open Diego's Mart primarily to provide a regular supply of fresh local fish.

"I want our children to continue the business because this will help the community and also serve as their training ground," said Vicky.

For additional reports from The Saipan Tribune, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Saipan Tribune.

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