Seafood’s untapped potential

26 Feb, 2014

Qasim A. Moini

With a 1,000-kilometre coastline and plenty of lakes and rivers, Pakistan has the potential of being a major producer of seafood, which cannot only feed a growing population at home but can also earn the country valuable foreign exchange and create jobs through the export sector.

However, perhaps the two biggest impediments affecting the growth of the fisheries industry in the country are overfishing and poor quality control where handling and storage of the catch is concerned. In 2007 matters came to such a head that the European Union banned the import of Pakistani seafood within the bloc. After much effort, this ban was lifted in 2013. Yet if Pakistan is not careful, not only will it lock itself out of potential markets, it may find itself shut out of the markets it already has access to.

As a recently issued World Bank report, Fish to 2030, points out, globally, “Fish can satisfy the palates of the middle income group and meet the food security needs of the poorest.” Of course in Pakistan, on most middle-class dinner tables seafood is considered a novelty item. Yet if fish consumption is promoted, it may help address our food security issues to an extent.

As for the exports front, the potential is huge if we can get our priorities right.

“Our primary markets are the Middle East and Far East; China is the single most important market. Saudi Arabia and Egypt are also important. We export shrimp as well as different sorts of fish, octopuses, squid etc,” says Faisal Iftikhar, Chairman of the Pakistan Fisheries Export Association, who also heads the Fisheries Development Board.

Talking about obstacles in the growth of the fisheries industry, Moazzam Khan, who works as a technical adviser on marine resources with the World Wide Fund for Nature-Pakistan, says: “In Pakistan, there is a major gap between production and exports. We are basically an exporter of raw material; fish are reprocessed abroad. Two factories have been recently set up here which offer value-added products. Value addition is key.”

He adds that “our post-harvest losses are very high. A lot of fish goes bad” because of lack of proper storage facilities. “Storage in boats is also not up to standard.”

Mr Iftikhar confirms problems with the supply chain, adding that Pakistan has neglected fish farming and aquaculture. “There are supply chain issues.

Also, we have no marine farming. Other countries in the region are way ahead. They have tapped their potential through fish farming. We need to work on supply-chain issues and increase our inland fisheries’ yield.”

What is more, Mr Khan observes that volatility in Pakistan is keeping potential foreign customers at bay. “The situation in the country is keeping buyers away. It is very important that the buyer and the seller meet.”

Iftikhar Zaidi, also of the Pakistan Fisheries Export Association, points out that along with the need to control overfishing, greater investment can enable local producers to bring in significantly more business. “Overfishing and illegal fishing are our major problems. Illegal nets are used, which end up catching juvenile fish. It is a shame that we are importing $40m worth of fish annually. With the right investment, we can significantly improve export earnings. Exports are currently around $350m; other states [in the region] are exporting seafood worth billions of dollars.”

It appears that to make Pakistan a major player in the international seafood market, the state will have to do a number of things. These include raising awareness amongst fishermen and producers about the need to maintain quality control and hygiene standards from the time the fish is caught till the time it is sold at market or frozen for export, as well as using sustainable methods to ensure we do not deplete our stocks.

There is also a need to exploit the potential of Pakistan’s freshwater fisheries as well as promoting aquaculture. For as Faisal Iftikhar points out, unless we concentrate on fish farming “our export potential will only remain on paper”.

Courtesy DAWN

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