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Seafood exports: A study in perspective

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By Dr. M. Mubeen Aslam
Dec 13 - 19, 1999

Pakistan's export of Fish & Fish products has grown steadily from US$ 50 m. in 1980 to US$ 171.6 m. in 1998 and US$ 120.1 m. in 1999, contributing to 0.4% of the net global trade in this product. Our share at present no doubt is very small but the potential for growth is immense, as the world trade in this food product which has a high nutritional value and high protein and low fat content will continue to expand in the coming years, though at a slower overall rate than in recent years. Some of the traditional markets, including Japan and Spain may probably show little or no growth whereas other major markets like Italy, France, Germany and some Western European countries are expected to expand further.

The world market and product profile:

The two principal fishing areas of "Northwest Pacific" and the "Southwest Atlantic" together provide almost two-thirds of total world catches. The Northwest Pacific is mainly fished by Japan, R.O. Korea, Taiwan, China and Russia, whereas the Southwest Atlantic is mainly fished by Japan, Taiwan, Poland, R.O. Korea, Argentina, Spain, Russia. Amongst other fishing areas, the "Central Eastern Atlantic" catch (mainly Octopus) is mainly taken by Spain, Mauritania, Morocco, R.O. Korea and Senegal whereas the "Western Central Pacific" catch is mainly taken by Thailand, Philippines and Indonesia. The composition of world catches usually varies considerably from year to year.

The country's coastline which stretches along Balochistan and Sindh provinces runs on for more than 1000 kms. The coastal shelf area of the country covers about 50,270 sq.km. The inland water tracts in various parts of Pakistan, which yield fish, add up to about 12 million hectares. In terms of output, fish obtained from marine sources account for the major share of nearly 80 per cent of the total, while the produce of inland water is around 20 per cent. As many as 350 species of marine fish are found in Pakistani territorial waters. Table I shows a list of commercially important/common Marine Fish and shell fish species caught in Pakistani waters.



01. SHADS(B-24) Hilsa and Toli Shads Palla Palwar

02. MISC.DIADROMOUS Barramundi Dangri Dangri

FISH (B-25)

03. FLOUNDERS,HALIBUTS Flatfishes Sole Swasoo


04. REDFISHES, BASSES Bombay Duck Bombil Bombala

CONGERS(B-33) Sea catfishes Khagga Kun,Gullo

Greater Lizard Fish Gaddi Bombala

Daggertooth pike Sank,Bam Sang


Grouper Gisser Chancho,



Sillago whiting Ladypees Hashor


Sanappers Hira Kanulcha


False Trarely Bakka Chilankar

Japanese thread-fin Lalpari Kolonto


Grunts Dhoter Kumpo

Spotted croakers Sua Kir,Soli

Croakers Mushka Mushka

Emperors Mulla Gaddir

Longspine Dand Sorro

Sea bream Daudla Tintle

Scat Phanna Dateera

Indo-Pacific Khuker Kuker


Needle fish Kangho Aalore

05. JACK MULLETS Barracudas Kund Kund

SAURIES(B-34) Mullets Boi Murbo

Threadifin Rawas Gwanz

Hardtail scad Bako Dardurnb

Queenfish Aal Saram

Trevallies Bangra, Kakawan


Black Pomfret Kala poplet Kala pitno

Common dolphinfish Malhar Amrusk

Silver pomfret Sufaid Pithoo


Cobia Sango Sanglor

06. HERRINGS Culpieformes Palli Gohi,Kelger SARDINE, Indian Oil Sardinellas Tarli Luger ANCHOVIES(B-35) Thryssas Padan Padni

Dorab wolf herring Karli,Gatri Pashant

07. TUNAS, BONITOS Seerfishes Ghore,Surmai Gore,Kurgan

BILL FISHES Long-tail tuna Dawan Dawan

(B-36) Tunas Chukki,Dawan Chikki,Dawan

Sailfish Ghori Asp

Black marlin Ghori Asp



09. SHARKS,RAYS Requiem sharks Mangra Barkali,Paggas

CHIMAERAS(B-38) Guitarfish Zahro Khail

Rays Pitton Pitton

Sawfish Liaro Suddo

10. SEA SPEDERS, Swimming crabs Kekra Gogo tanga

CRABS (B-42)

11. LOBSTERS, SPINY Palinurid spiny Kikat Kika

ROCK LOBSTERS(B-43) lobsters

12. SHRIMPS,PRAWNS Penaeus Shrimps Jaira Jaira

(B-45) Metapenaeus shrimps Kalri Kalri

Kiddi shrimps Kiddi Kiddi

13. SQUID,CUTTLEFISHES, Cephalopods Mayyah Mus


14. MISC.FRESH WATER Fresh water fishes Thaila, Mori Roh,

FISH (B-13) Moi Muttee

Table I :- (List of Commercial Marine Fish/Shell Fish Species in Pakistan)

Market Characteristics:

The consumption patterns differ considerably from market to market; the restaurant and catering trade usually constitutes the largest market segment. Whether eaten in restaurants or at home, the product may undergo some form of processing before sale to the end-user, which could either be primary processing (including cleaning, gutting, removal of skin and wings) or go further like dried or salted products, retail or catering packs of frozen products, frozen prepared dishes and canned products.

Eating habits also vary greatly in different countries. For instance table II shows the annual consumption per head of Fish and Fishery products as under:-

Country Annual consumption

per head (in Kg)

F.R. Germany 10 Kg

Italy 15 Kg

Hong Kong 45 Kg

Japan 775 Kg (Source: ITC)

Table II: Consumption patterns

By contrast, out of the total fish output in Pakistan, the domestic consumption is only 28 per cent. The per capita consumption of Fish & Fish products in Pakistan stands very low at 1.8 kg per head annually. This is perhaps because of the preference of people for beef or mutton. As a result a large surplus gets available, out of which about 258 is exported while the rest is converted into fishmeal. It is pertinent to mention that the importers' demands are usually contingent upon species, size, products form, packaging, etc. and vary from market to market, and even within a market from one importer or processor to another, depending on the requirements of the clients. However, the EU Health and Safety requirements as well as the WTO Agreement on Sanitary and phytosanitary measures have now greatly standardized the importers' requirements in EU.

Competition and Pricing:

A significant competition within the Fish and Fishery products' market arises because of different sources of supplies (domestic/imported); competition between types, species, sizes product forms. Each factor's significance varies according to the market and over time. The overall market is highly competitive and import prices are usually determined by market forces. Sometimes, temporary over supply or shortages of certain species greatly influence the prices. Because of the close international competition, prices usually move in parallel over the medium to long term with Japanese demand setting the trend. For some species, the price is basically set in Canary Islands on the terms of the prices which the Japanese importers are willing to pay and at which the Spanish exporters are willing to sell. The price differential may sometimes lead to market disruption . Generally the Japanese importers pay higher prices than the Europeans.

Distribution channels:

Generally specialized seafood importers or trading companies play an important role in the international trading system. They usually purchase the products in their own names and stock. Some of these commercial importers have processing or repacking facilities whereas other sell-out to independent sea food processors and packers, wholesalers, retail outlets, restaurants and catering organizations.

In markets with large domestic catches of fish and fishery products (eg. Japan and Spain), large fishery companies engaged in commercial fishing usually maintain their own processing/catering packing facilities. Such companies usually pack and sell retail/catering packs or frozen prepared dishes under their " own labels" or well-established manufacturer brand names as per the buyer requirements. There are a very few retail outlets which import directly although some of the trading companies do import for their own subsidiary retail outlets. The restaurants and catering outlets usually obtain their supplies of fish and fishery products from commercial Importers/wholesalers, or seafood processors depending on the quantities involved and the type of outlet in question.

Overview of Pakistan exports

The world trade in Fish and Fishery products has greatly expanded over the last few years, but at the same time has grown extremely competitive too. The international markets are getting highly conscious for the health, safety and quality standards of the products and the fishing services, as well. Pakistani exports of fish and fish preparations has faced a gradual stagnation during the last three years, and a virtual decline both in value/unit price terms (as shown in Table III)

1993-94 94-95 95-96 96-97 97-98 98-99

Export value ($m) 154.7 154.3 140.7 149.1 171.6 120.1

Export volume(m.kg) 69 63 66 80 78 77.5

Unit value ($/kg) 2.2 2.9 2.1 1.8 2.2 1.5

Share in total exports 2.3 1.9 1.6 1.8 2.0 1.5

(%) Table III: Pakistani Seafood exports.

There is no doubt that inadequate facilities and un hygienic conditions at the harbour, poor fishing skills/ services using traditional nets and country boats, and low quality fish and fishery products have generally made our seafood exports vulnerable to sanctions/punitive measures from the Western markets. Moreover, the Fish exporters also sometimes lack appropriate market information and intelligence, as a result of which problems arise in selecting the right target markets and the distribution channels, which to some extent explains the falling trends in our export figures. Moreover , marine pollution, use of fine meshnets and over fishing are also depleting our fish reserves. Harvesting them at maximum yield generates enormous amounts of by-catch, most of which gets discarded and alters the marine habitat.

We are all aware that the EU Health Safety and Quality standards have adversely affected our fish exports in the last couple of years. Similarly, the export of Fish was also badly affected by a US embargo (in recent past) on the shrimp imports from countries including Pakistan, which used mechanical nets for shrimp trawlers, besides barring some of the exporters on account of the bacterial contamination of the product exported.

To ensure the hygienic conditions for the quality seafood, an Act to regulate quality and prompt export of fish and fisheries products has already been enacted by the Federal Government. Some of the practical steps in realization of this object may need to be reinforced as under:

i) Upgradation in the skills of the Skippers and Fishermen in various aspects of fishing technology through an extensive training programme.

ii) Upgradation and improvement in the fish holds of the vessels, with storage of the catch in plastic boxes with proper ice to fish ratio. Cleaning and gutting of the catch may be done at sea, and washed with relatively clean sea water before storage;

iii) The boat owners and the fishing crews be convinced to reduce their average fishing trip period from 21 days to (say) 12 days. The economic benefits of a better quality catch realising a higher auction value shall greatly compensate for/ if a small catch there is !

iv) The handling of fish catch and its unloading at the harbour must maintain the quality of fish in accordance with the required standards. For instance, the unloading rate of fish per hour should be brisk enough that no " fresh" catch is kept in waiting. Similarly de-icing of "frozen" catch must also be done with clean-fresh water; the Offal including fish oil residue be disposed of promptly and the catch be placed in containers for auction purposes.

It is pertinent to emphasize here that the country is severely handicapped in Fisheries Allied Industries of international standards. Moreover facilities for boat building and repairs are also not up to the mark. SMEDA has recently embarked upon a project for modification of at least 1000 fishing boats in conformity with EU fishing standards. However, a simultaneous provision of suitable Navigational Aids equipment for the safe navigation of fishing vessels calling at the Port and Fish/Port Handling equipment for loading/unloading facility of the fish catch may also merit consideration.

Similarly the work on development of a composite Industrial Park for Fisheries allied industries like fishmeal plants, fish/shrimp processing plants, fish dehydration/oil extraction plants, fish canning plants, cold storages, Net mending sheds, etc. may also need to be strengthened on modern lines. The Fishermen Cooperative Society may in collaboration with some commercial Banks/DFI's, play a dynamic role and offer micro credits to ameliorate the hardships of fishermen. Their performance and return on catch may multiply with this resource enablement.

A balance is also required to be struck in the usage of existing infrastructure facilities between Karachi and Korangi Harbours. The working of unauthorised private jetties along the coastline without any infrastructure support may strongly be discouraged. This may also help us in promoting deep sea fishing and exploiting fisheries resources between 12-35 NM.


Japan, UK, Netherlands, USA and Srilanka are currently the major export markets for Pakistan. By some estimates the country is projected to earn over $1bn. from exports of Fish and Fish products. The exporters in Pakistan can, with some effort, seize this opportunity provided they maintain close contact with buyers, their final deliveries conform to specifications and adhere to the shipping deadlines and above all maintain the quality standards.

In order to penetrate new markets and to increase export of value-added seafood products continuous product development, product adaptation, and quality and packaging improvement should remain the prime consideration of ours exporters!