Nov 1 - 7, 20

Exports of seafood grew 40 per cent in the first three months of current fiscal year to 46.93 million dollar from 33.5 million dollar in the corresponding period last year. The growth was unexpected given the circumstances under which industries in the country are reeling. However, hats off to processors or exporters of fish that they threw out good export figures at the start, which may make up for 7.5 per cent decline in the fish exports in 2009/10.

This year's fish exports are expected to exceed marks of last two year given the significant numbers of destinations, which are presently buyers of fish and marine products of Pakistan. At the same time, exporters look for strict government measures to control illegal fishing and implementation of legislations and keep their fingers crossed for good harvesting from March to May, a season which is critical to harvesting.

State bank recorded 220 million dollar exports of fish and fish preparations during 2009-10, showing a 7.5 per cent decrease over $238 million dollar marked in 2008-09. Earlier in 2007-08 exports of 202 million dollar was registered, depicting a slight jump of six per cent as compared to exports of 190 million dollar in 2006-07. Though it was an insignificant rise, yet considering ban on Pakistan's seafood exports by European Union in April 2007 the rise was startling. EU market used to buy 40 to 50 million dollar of fish stocks from Pakistan annually. It was obvious that such a mega drawdown would have pulled down foreign exchange year following the ban. Contrary to logic, it did not happen.

Exporters find the logic in diversification of seafood exports to various other countries. Entry in to other markets averted the obvious impact of EU's pullback, according to the chairman Pakistan fisheries exporters association. Faisal Iftikhar said in the beginning it was tough to trawl through markets alternative to European countries. And, it was only after one year that Egypt was onboard to consume alone as much stocks as whole European block bought every year, he told this scribe. The stock outturns were luckily good when the ban was imposed and exporters had to just render extra efforts to get over sudden loss to their sale revenues by finding new buyers outside Europe, explained Faisal. The exports would have been higher by 15 million dollar had EU been not lost, he added.

Dilating on the vagaries seafood exporters went through in the instant aftermath of EU's ban, he said exporters were blackmailed on stock valuation in the beginning. Now, Pakistan is exporting fish and fish preparations to more than 60 countries and China, Egypt, UAE, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, and Indonesia have 75 per cent shares in the total seafood exports. Pakistan's marine fisheries spanning over 700 miles coastline from Sir Creek in Sindh to Jiwani in Balochistan consist of territorial waters of Sindh and Balochistan. Inland fish stocks are additional albeit marine foods account for 90 per cent of total stocks.

European Union slapped ban on Pakistan's seafood exports on the bases of discrepancies it found in the entire supply chain from pre-processing to processing stages. The main reservation was about non-compliance of fisheries with international food health and safety standards. EU has its own technical regulations and wants exporters to adhere to them. These standards are more related to ensure quality of products. It was reported in the media and told to this scribe by a senior official in the marine fisheries department (MFD) that compliance with EU-devised rules and guidelines are difficult to follow for players involved in the pre-processing stage that starts from harvesting, docking, and placement of fish in auction halls to transportation. In spite of that, the department which works under ministry of livestock and dairy development in the centre and which is responsible for monitoring and inspection is said to convince fishermen to improve methods of catching and handling. Therefore, almost 300 shipping vessels have been modified in accordance with the international standards. Plastic baskets have replaced straw baskets. Two special auction halls with steel desktops for EU have been established. Insulated vehicles are being used for food transportation.

In spite of that, processors are more keener to abide by the rules since their aberrations would directly result in loss of revenue or buyer, said a well-placed source. Majority of stakeholders in the supply chain are content with traditional standard of procedures. An official said safety and health standards are overemphasised in the EU's set of rules. He asked were prevalent conditions so irksome, why other developed nations would buy our fish. China is equally cautious about health and safety controls followed in product handling and processing. Yet again, it is the single largest buyer of fish stocks from Pakistan, he said.

No one however denied the need of up-gradation and rehabilitation of facilities at the harbours. Inharmonious policies also are the cause of present state of affairs. Karachi fish harbour (KFH) that is the main landing dock amongst four harbours in Pakistan: Korangi fish harbour and two in Balochistan, comes under the administrative control of Sindh government. Marine fisheries department—federal organisation—supervises exports besides inspection and monitoring. KFH runs its affairs under the policy guidelines of provincial government. On the other hand, troika of Karachi fish harbour, marine fisheries department, and fishermen cooperative society are three authorities on single harbour having delegated with certain marine area and responsibility of levies collection. Clash is unavoidable or at least harmony in policies from different directions is difficult to be developed. All three are responsible to ensure safety and heath standards. Over-exploitation and post-harvest losses are major threats to fisheries sector of Pakistan. Either there are no legislations to control excessive fish catching or implementation is nowhere. Careful utilisation of marine wealth can increase fish exports by 300 per cent, claimed a senior official.