UNDER-EXPLORED MARINE RESOURCES

SHAMSUL GHANI
shams_ghani@hotmail.com

Feb 16 - 22, 2009

Pakistan is endowed with a 990 km vast coastal belt with immense marine-economy prospects. It is not surprising that like other under-explored national resources such as river water, coal, gas etc. marine resources too are subject to under-utilization and waste. Sea with a long coastline is natureís gift that needs to be exploited to a maximum†for national food security and economic development purposes. The absence of maritime awareness and lack of policy initiative are at the back of this unfortunate under development of all important economic assets. Both developed and developing nations have their marine resources evaluation and development programs to get benefited from natureís bounties. Japan is now planning to†explore its seabed to harvest rare earth elements used in electronics in order to reduce its dependence on imports from China. Developing nations too have their programs to exploit national marine resources to the maximum.

The lack of technological advancement, substandard hygienic culture, low literacy rate among the fishermen community and poor quality of life on the coastal belt have been a huge drag on the development of highly promising fishing industry.† The European Union which imposed a ban on import of fish and shrimp from Pakistan two years ago has given a signal to lift the ban on the basis of technological and hygienic improvements Pakistanís fishing industry has undergone during the ban period. The recent ìNational Policy and Strategy for Fisheries and Aquaculture Developmentî announced by the ministry of food, agriculture and livestock carries various measures to improve fishing industry and the quality of life of fishermen. But the true realization of the importance of this potential sector of economy still remains elusive. It is not just the framing of a national policy but the efficient implementation and effective goal achievement is what really matters.

The strategy outlined in the national policy endeavors to increase national fish supply based on sustainable production and improved marketing of aquatic products. According to the policy, the achievement of strategy objectives rests on the establishment of amicable environment that will create suitable conditions for sustainable production and improved marketing to take place. This environment will be created through the realization of four fundamental common elements to support the overall development of both fisheries and aquaculture. These four elements are:

ïStrengthening of cross-sectional collaborations

ïInstitutional improvement and development

ïEnhancement of research and development applied to fisheries and aquaculture

ïDevelopment of human resource and skills.

Simultaneously, with the achievement of above mentioned four common elements, sustainable production and improved marketing will be achieved through three strategies which are:

ïSustainable development of inland and coastal aquaculture production

ïSustainable increase in inland and marine capture fisheries production

ïResolving of post-harvest issues

Pakistan has total territorial marine waters extended to 1,481x12n. miles with 1,129x12 n. miles in Baluchistan and 352x12 n. miles in Sindh. The marine fishing sector of Pakistan is dependent on impoverished and almost illiterate fishermen community that subsists under the persistent threat of exploitation. Like our agriculture sector, fishery also remains under utilized. The two vital sectors of economy need a boost through higher resource allocation and social uplift programs for the farmers and the fishermen.

Besides other unexplored marine resources, fishery is the most potential yet less mobilized economic resource. Fishery contributes to countryís exports significantly. During 2003-04, around $120 million worth fishery products were exported. According to the Marine Fishing Department, Pakistan exported fish to 40 countries. The EU ban imposed in 2007 cost Pakistan $80 million of exports. The ban, however, made Pakistan look for other world markets, and as a result, its exports exceeded $200 million during 2007-08. In case, EU rejoins us, the number of importing countries is expected to be 60 during 2009 and fish exports may touch $350 million mark.

Fishing industry provides employment to hundreds of thousands of people with a similar number employed by ancillary industries. Located in the northern part of the Arabia Sea, Pakistan has huge fishery potential with its fish and shrimps finding way into the world export markets. With a vast coastline and a broad continental shelf, Pakistanís exclusive economic zone (EEZ) extends to around 200 n. miles from the coast.

Among the major fish harbors of Pakistan, Karachi Fisheries Harbor handles around 90 per cent catch of fish and allied seafood besides managing†around 95 per cent of Pakistanís total fishery exports. The major importing countries include EU countries, Japan, US, China, Saudi Arabia, U.A.E, Malaysia, South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore and Sri Lanka. Despite the existing EU ban, our fish and shrimps reach EU markets through third countries.

While fresh water aquaculture has been developed to some extent, the marine aquaculture lacks even the basic infrastructure. The government eying an export target of $500 million during the next few years has a long way to go in addressing the problems of this neglected sector of the economy. The long outstanding issue of federal versus provincial control needs to be resolved. The federal government will do well to allow a free hand to the provincial governments while restricting its own role to that of an overseer. In order to develop the marine economy, the fishermen community will have to be taken care of first. The coastal areas should be developed into well-organized marine towns with the population having access to all basic amenities. Social support programs providing for education and entertainment to the inmates of the community need to be designed and implemented.

Vocational training and provision of modern fishing and allied equipment which are basic for the development of this sector should be made available to the working members of the community. Women participation in the industrial activities should be ensured. The marine towns should have the support of countryís banking sector with sufficient number of bank branches operating there and extending cheap and easy credit facilities to the fishermen.