General Santos Fish Port: The Crown Jewel of the Tuna Capital

This post has been long overdue. I have been to these blogger tours a decade ago and I have been here since college. I have yet to write a single piece about this place that made General Santos City the country's "Tuna Capital." So here we go.

Weighing of unloaded tuna. (Photo: Berniemack Arellano, 2022)

The early morning unloading of tuna at General Santos City’s fish port is one of the city’s main attractions. It gets busy as early as 4 in the morning and lasts at least 7 or 8 in the morning. Big tuna being unloaded from the freezers of fishing boats are inspected, bought, and exported immediately to different canneries and straight to the airport for immediate delivery to Manila, Cebu, Iloilo, and notably Japan.

Unloaded tuna from the fishing boats. General Santos City (Photo: Berniemack Arellano, 2022)

It is the country’s second largest fish port, after Navotas in Metro Manila. This facility is in Barangay Tambler, several kilometers southwest of Downtown Dadiangas.

Before its full operation in 1999, tuna runs like these were once unloaded near GenSan’s Public Market. Called Fish Landing / Landing Fish, it is near Dadiangas Roundball (Rotunda) and it straddles the border between barangays Bula and Dadiangas.

 The site can be seen here on Google StreetView:

In his presentation in the 15th National Tuna Congress, SFFAII President Marfenio Y. Tan (2013) recounted the humble beginnings of tuna industry in Sarangani Bay as difficult. Challenges such as trecherous seas, capsizing fishing boats, and piracy were rampant during those times. He also remembered that tuna (locally called bariles) was once buried under the beaches of Fish Landing due to lack of buyers at that time, creating a surplus of demand that bought a kilo of yellowfin tuna for just one Philippine Peso.

Carrying Tuna at Fish Port (Photo by: Berniemack Arellano, 2022)

The development of fishing industry in Sarangani Bay was attributed to the coming of the Filipino Settlers in particular, who brought in fishing techniques such as basnig, baklad, or sudsud.

Tan noted that it was in the 1970s when the discovery of tuna catches caught the eyes of fish exporters of Zamboanga. It reached the Japanese shores later, with its demand for yellow fin, bigeye, skipjack, or prized blue fin was available in the city. In 1982, Purefoods opened its cannery.

One of the piers of the Fish Port. Unfortunately by the time we went to the Fish Port, the fishing boats have took shelter in several areas due to weather disturbances, hence the less number of docked fishing boats. (Photo: Berniemack Arellano, 2022)

GenSan’s Fish Port’s conception started in 1987 when demand for tuna has increased and so are the modern cold storage facilities. Through the help of the Japanese Overseas Economic Cooperation Fund, they were able to finish the master plan in 1992, started constructing the facility in 1994, and became fully operational by 1999. Fish Landing ceased to accommodate landings and operations moved to the modern facility—closer to the canneries and factories that line up Tambler and Calumpang’s coastline, to Makar Wharf, and GenSan’s Airport in neighboring Uhaw (Fatima).

Some reminders before heading to GenSan Fish Port:

  • Wear appropriate attire. Do not wear shorts. Wear pants and sleeved t-shirts at least.
  • Sanitized white boots are required to enter Market 1. Rubber boots can be rented for a small fee at a store near the entrance of the Market Hall.
  • Wake up very early. The tuna unloading may finish early as 7am.
  • GenSan Fish Port is far from downtown Dadiangas. It is 10 kilometers south.

Works cited:

 Tan M.Y. (2013). "The Making of the Philippine Tuna Capital," in Socksargen Federation of Fishing and Allied Industries, Inc."