for the first time a 10 tonne capacity ice plant has been built at Karachi Fishries

By Syed M. Aslam
Nov 29 - Dec 05,1999

During the first four months of the current fiscal ended October 31, sea-food exports from Pakistan totalled $ 49 million depicting a 33 per cent increase in term of value over the corresponding period last year.

Pakistan exported a total of 31,000 tonnes of sea-food in the first four months of the current fiscal which was 42.32 per cent more than the quantity which it exported in the comparative period last year. The better performance thus far this year could be attributed to a number of measures taken by the government to address the concerns of the US and EU about the quality, hygienic handling and processing, and environmental aspects of the trade. Works are underway to provide an improved storage and handling facilities while the installing of TED (Turtle Escape Device) is almost been completed to satisfy the US demand for the preservation of sea turtles, an endangered specy.

While sea-food processing plants in the vicinity of the Karachi Fisheries Harbour have their own ice-making plants, for the first time a 10 tonne capacity ice plant has been built. The Fishermen Cooperative Society (FCS) has plans to built more ice plants of a similar capacity to meet the 300 tonnes demand.

Talking to PAGE, the chief planning officer of the Marine Fisheries Department, Moazzam Khan said that the growing concern of the EU to ensure the quality and hygienic standards at all step of the sea-food handling from catch to processing is the prime criteria to grant licences. Thus far nine sea-food processing plants have been granted permission to export sea-food while a proposal for the approval of the tenth was sent to the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock (MINFAL) on November 26.

In addition, he said about ten new sea-food processing plants, including two which were razed and are now in the process of being completely rebuilt, are in various phases of construction within the premises of the Karachi Fisheries Harbour. Of these, one has already been completed while work on the two others is underway, he added.

He said that the adherence to policy to grant licences only to the processing plants which meet the strict hygienic and quality criteria of the EU would ensure that only the quality sea-food products would now be exported to help fetch premium prices. This is not only true of the EU but also for the US and Japan, the two other major markets, he added.

In addition, he added, a hundred per cent compliance of the TED net requirement has fully been achieved to meet one of the persistent US demand which has continuously threatened seafood exports to the US in the past.

To facilitate the hygienic handling, the Fishermen Cooperative Society has encouraged the use of plastic crates at the Fisheries. Some 10,000 plastic crates are already being imported by the Export Promotion Bureau and distributed through the Fishermen Cooperative Society at no profit. These crates are being used at the auction halls of the Fisheries while another 30,000 are on the way. According to the Chairman of Pakistan Seafood Industries Association, Hanif Khan, some 200,000 plastic crates are needed.

While Hanif expressed hope that sea-food export during the current fiscal will surpass the $ 120 million figure of the last year, he questioned the legal but unflexible stance of the MFD for granting licences to the sea-food processing units. While the EU has Pakistani sea-food processors to upgrade their facilities till December 31, 2000 the MFD has taken a legal but an unflexible stance to grant the licences to the remaining 10 processors, he said.

He expressed concerns that the non-issuance of licences by the MFD to the remaining processors who were exporting sea-food previously would hurt the overall sea-food exports to the EU this year. EU is the biggest market of Pakistani sea-food which absorbs more than half of the total exports from Pakistan.

Pakistani sea-food exports have remained high-prone due to many factors, both internal and external. While the export performance during the first four months ended October 31 this year indicate that the value of sea-food export would surpass the $ 120 million total in the whole of 1998-99, it is feared to remain much below the $ 172 million figure in 1997-98.

Firstly, the lack of infrastructure is resulting in export of high-priced fish such as tuna in the dry form to Sri Lanka at throw away prices. Moazzam, attributed it on the absence of good roads between coastal areas in Balochistan and Karachi, the primary shipping point. The fishermen of Balochistan finds it uneconomical to ship their products to Karachi in the freshest form and thus are forced to export the high priced fish in the dried form, he added.

The absence of quality infrastructure necessary to timely ship the sea-food in the freshest form to demand premium export prices is also resulting in huge wastage. This is evident from the fact that on an average, just 11 per cent of the total annual seafood catch finds it way in to the international markets, a bulk of much in the dried form.