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Sea-food exports on the increase

The volume of sea-food exports this fiscal is expected to bypass last year's earnings of $ 133 million

By Syed M. Aslam
Dec 25 - 31, 2000

Despite good performance during first five months of the current fiscal, sea-food exports are feared not to sustain the much-needed growth in the remaining months, particularly once the peak period is over two months from now.

It is interesting to note that value of sea-food exports increased despite an almost similar reduction in the quantity during July-November this year over the comparative period last year. The value of sea-food exports increased from $ 64.745 million in July-November last year to $ 71.394 million during the same period this year despite a substantial reduction in quantity which declined from 40,149 tonnes to 37,048 tonnes. In short, earnings from sea-food exports increased by 10 per cent despite an 8 per cent reduction in its quantity — the unit price of exports registered a 19.5 per cent increase from $ 1.61 per kilogram to $ 1.93 per kilogram.

Director General of Marine Fisheries Department, Muazzam Khan, attributed the improved performance of the sea-food exports on an unprecedented increase in the international prices of sea-food by as much as 30 per cent in July-August due primarily to reduced production globally. In fact, he added, the gains made in these two months are instrumental in sustaining the performance till now despite decrease in the exports over the corresponding months last years — both in terms of value and quantity.

October was not a good month and November was even worse. sea-food exports increased slightly in terms of quantity and yet registered a decline in October- volume of exports increased slightly to 9,849 tonnes this October over the corresponding period last year while value of exports declined from $ 16.166 million to $ 15.748 million.

November witnessed a drastic decrease both in terms of value and quantity over the corresponding month last year — quantity of sea-food exports declined by 16 per cent from 10,024 tonnes to 8,419 tonnes while value of exports registered a sharp decline of 14.8 per cent from $ 15.999 million to $ 13.731 million.

The sudden decline in quantity of sea-food exports directly reflects the reduction in the quantity of the sea-food landings. While it is still too early to ascertain the cause of the decline in the quantity of export, Muazzam said that it may be caused by decreased landings of shrimps, particularly the premier priced quality Jaira, due to lifting of the ban on trawling a month earlier than usual this year. However, with two months of the peak season still remaining and the the premier July-August prices still sustaining any shortfalls, the volume of sea-food exports this fiscal is expected to bypass last year's earnings of $ 133 million, Muazzam added.

Pakistani sea-food exports are on a constant decline since earning a record $ 171 million in 1997-98 primarily due to many problems faced by the related industry. Muazzam blamed over-fishing as one of the major cause of erratic performance. For instance, since 1971 shrimp landings have increased only 35 per cent despite over four-fold increase in the number of fishing boats registered with the Karachi Fish Harbour.

The increased shrimp landings also don't tell true picture because though the overall annual landings have increased by an average of 35 per cent since 1971, the landings of Jaira have declined by half from 10,000 tonnes, landings of medium sized Kalri has remain unchanged in the vicinity of 6,000 tonnes and only the crop of lowest priced Kiddi has been increased five-time. The increase in shrimp landings thus came at the price of quality which makes little difference as far as the value is concerned.

Moreover, a sizeable portion of sea-food exports comprise such high-priced fish such as Tuna in the dried form mainly to a single market of Sri Lanka at throw-away prices. For instance, of the 83,138 tonnes of sea-food exported included 21,231 tonnes of dried fish in 1997. The practice is depriving the country a substantial amount of foreign exchange earnings.

Not only the landings of Jaira is decreased but the size of this premier quality of shrimp is also getting smaller due to ineffective implementation of the traditional ban in June and July.

There are three types of over-fishing — growth over-fishing, reproductive over-fishing and environmental over-fishing and all of these are destroying the local marine life. The sizes of shrimps and fish getting smaller and the unaffective implementation of the ban is not only resulting in the catching of the patash, juvenile shrimps, restricting their growth to reach fair size to fetch premium prices internationally which is driven by size alone. It is also this is resulting in the reproductive over-fishing due to absence of enough female, or male, population necessary for the reproduction of the stocks which are fast depleting.

Human considerations are also posing challenges to the fishing industry due to presence of large number of trawlers plying trade in an area which is geographically restricted. There are no easy answers but the situation sure needs corrective measures and policy for the greater benefit of the national economy and the sea-food exports.