Pakistan is blessed with rich fishery potential with a coastline of about 1,120 km. Fish is an important component of Pakistan’s agricultural economy. A major part (65 percent) comes from marine resource. This accounts for one percent of the GDP. It is an important source of food as well as livelihood for over one million people in the country’s coastal belt.
Pakistan has a wide variety of fish products with 150 species of commercial importance. Most valuable of them are exported while a major part of the total catch is converted into fishmeal for export, as well as for use in the local poultry as feed. The main export species include shrimp, Indian mackerel, ribbon-fish, tuna, sole and crab.
Exports of seafood are recovering now after falling for last two years. With the facility for exporting frozen seafood to China via land route to be in place from April, the growth trend is expected to continue for some time.
In the first year half 2017, fish exports and preparations fetched $183.5 million, up (more than 10 percent) from $166 million in the same period of fiscal year 2015-16.
Earlier in the entire fiscal year 2016, these exports were down 7 percent to $325 million. In fiscal year 2015 export earnings of $349 million were 5.4 percent lower than $369.5 million in fiscal year 2014.
Since export pricing of seafood rises quite slowly due to less-attractive packaging and less-efficient bargains, the export earnings requires a big long-term effort.
Local consumption is growing fast and enrichment of fishing resources requires some time and sincere efforts.
After hitting an all-time high of 926,000 tonnes in 2010, the total fish production (including marine and inland catch) has remained range-bound between 700,000-765,000 tonnes.
Up to 20 percent of fish production is exported and the remaining is consumed domestically. This ratio varies a little with rise and fall in exports.
Due to the absence of reliable statistics on the growth rate and pattern of local consumption, the owners of fish traders cannot make a detailed long-term marketing strategy.
Fish traders, who cater mostly to domestic markets, suspend supplies to export houses of certain varieties of fish whenever their hauling runs into obstacles.
Widespread violations of rules of fishing in deep sea, the use of over-sized trawlers or fishing in restricted regions where fish breeding is encouraged and the use of fishing nets that haul in even juvenile fish, make it difficult to boost the fish population within exclusive sea zone.
Rivers and streams across Pakistan are not maintained regularly, keeping in view their possible fish yields, and fishing there is not carried out methodically.
Fish farming in rural and urban areas are being supported by the government, but their annual yields are limited and enough investment is not coming to raise their annual production.
CHINA BECOMING LEAD EXPORT MARKET
Fish exporters have made successful inroads into China, Thailand, South Korea, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Japan and some west African countries after the EU banned imports from Pakistan in April 2007.
The traditional Middle Eastern market, meanwhile, has been retained, but Saudi Arabia and the UAE have lately become more competitive export destinations, with increased fish imports from Egypt, India and China.
China has emerged as the single biggest market for Pakistani shrimp, oyster, lobster and crab, and the second largest market for fish, with the combined market of six GCC countries on the top.
Chinese market is expected to expand. About 7.5 million tonnes of different varieties of fish and shrimp were exported from Gwadar to China’s Guangdong province via land route of Khunjerab. This is going to become a regular affair from April.
According to fish exporters and local sellers over 500 species of fish, shrimps, crabs and lobsters are found in Pakistan’s waters but unfortunately less than 100 species are marketed in foreign countries.
Sardine, Salmon, Sea Cat Fish, Indian Mackerel, small croaker, Hair tall, small and large Mackerel, black, silver and white Pomfret and Tuna are some of the widely exported varieties.
Pakistan has abundant fish varieties like Rohu, Dhotar or Mushka but due to their production low the exports are low.
Take the example of Bangladesh that gets such a huge catch of Hilsa (Palla in Pakistan) that it can afford to market this variety at very moderate rates.
Unfortunately Pakistan because of its production of Palla is so much depressed that it cannot afford to market at a nominal rates.
Balochistan has recently contributed significantly to growth of fishing industry as a whole and to fish exports in particular.
Balochistan supplies up to 92 percent of its fish-catch to Karachi for onward export shipments. Sindh consumes at least 20 per cent of the provincial fish-catch leaving 80 per cent for exports.
In Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and in northern areas, fish-catch remains confined to fresh-water fish or fish obtained from fish-farms.
Since no large investment has been made in fish farming, the mass of fish produced on farms are used domestically, and only a very small percentage is brought to Karachi.
The domestic consumption is three times higher as compared to other seasons of the year.
Freshwater fish is supplied mainly from the farms of South Punjab’s cities of DG Khan, Multan, Muzaffar Garh, Kot Addu, Mandi Bahauddin and Alipur Chattha.
After a period of about six years, the European Union (EU) allowed resumption of export of Fish & Fishery products from Pakistan to EU countries.
It may be recalled that the fish processing plants were de-listed by EU. Two fish processing plants have been enlisted by EU and case of enlistment of five more processing plants is in process with EU.
To meet requirement of EU and other importing countries, two laboratories (i.e. Microbiology & Chemical) have been accredited from Pakistan National Accreditation Council.
The other initiative was that pursuant to requirement of EU and other importing countries, on Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Points (HACCP), guidelines have been prepared and distributed to 137 fish exporters/processors to ensure quality of seafood.
According to Sindh Fisheries Department the financial assistance of foreign countries, facilitated fishermen to increase their per-boat catch and cut down processing losses.
The prospects for tuna fish in Pakistan seem to be beneficial. It is estimated that the country can earn an extra $80-100 million by exporting fresh and canned tuna fish. Recently, Sri Lanka has shown interest in importing salted tuna fish.
Abundance of opportunistic, fast growing and small species due to absence of larger species and presence of predators of juvenile fish interfere in rebuilding of stocks of commercially viable species. Such a trend indicates a disturbed ecosystem.
The fisheries development, need to be resolved to sustain export growth as well as meet growing domestic market requirements.
By implementing an effective ban on hauling of juvenile fish from designated breeding areas; promoting modern inland fishing methods; and incentivizing fish farming across the country Exporters say Pakistan can easily boost seafood exports to $1 billion in three to five years if production is constantly augmented.
In last two fiscal years, Quality Control Section of Marine Fisheries Department (MFD) has issued more than 25,000 certificates of quality, origin and health of Pakistan’s exportable seafood which, according to them, is a record.
Besides, about 1200 fish boats of the total 4,000 plus have been upgraded in recent years, enabling fish farmers to preserve fish hauls on boats for a longer period.
Exporters believe there is also a need to boost export marketing by setting up a virtual trading hall in public-private partnership.
Sources at Commerce Division while enumerating the steps taken by the government to enhance export of seafood products a model shrimp farm in District Thatta, Sindh has been established by Fisheries Development Board with funding from Export Development Fund (EDF).
The EDF Board also approved Rs96 million for establishment of Pen Feh farm of sea bass and groupers along coastal belt of Sindh.
The appropriate trainings and guidance of fishermen on different aspects have resulted increase in seafood exports revenues which reached US $ 324 million during 2015-16.
The trainings were aimed at reducing post-harvest losses on board fishing vessels and were imparted on hygiene, deckhand, navigational electronic equipment, HACCP, modern fishing techniques etc.
Training of around 2,500 fishermen and fisheries related personnel on different aspects was arranged to bring high quality products which fetch higher price in market.
Training and guidance to fishermen has turned around the fishing industry resulting in increment in annual revenues while enumerating the steps taken by the government to enhance export of seafood products.
A model shrimp farm in District Thatta, Sindh has been established by Fisheries Development Board with funding from Export Development Fund (EDF) to enhance supply of raw material for seafood industry in Pakistan.
In order to enhance seafood exports and curb smuggling of seafood to Afghanistan and other countries from Peshawar, four new development projects are being implemented.
These included establishment of Regional Office and Testing Laboratory of Marine Fisheries Department at Peshawar, establishment of Regional Office & Testing laboratories of Marine Fisheries Department at Gwadar, upgradation and Accreditation of Quality Control Laboratories for Environmental Contamination and reactivation of Hatchery Complex for Production of Fish and Shrimp Seeds.