Aquaculture, the blue hub of Pakistan


Prof Abdul Shakoor Shah

OUR fisheries contribute humbly to economic and social development. Fisheries account for less than 0.4% of GDP. In 2015, marine capture fisheries formed almost 360,000 tons of fish, while internal capture fisheries and aquaculture procedures generated a further 132,500 tons and 151,000 tons, respectively. The marine sector is a vital financial quest for people along the coastal zones. Fisheries employ a reported 390,000 people directly and by including indirect jobs it culminates to between 900,000 and 1,800,000 jobs in total. The marine capture fishery has undergone a doom in overall production since the 1990s.
Despite good agro-climatic conditions, Pakistan insulates its neighbors in fishery production. Bangladesh and India are among the world’s top-five aquaculture-suppliers, while Pakistan ranks 28th. Its aquaculture growth rate of around 1.5% annually over the past five years is noticeably slower than India and Bangladesh. Fish is the world’s most traded food product. Worldwide aquaculture has developed from less than five million tons in 1970 to 73 million tons in 2014. A latest supply appraisal by the Government of Pakistan and the United Nations FAO found fisheries diminution and overfishing which will gravely chip away at production. The EU imposed an import ban for several years, and continues partially. Exports, which have averaged about US$350 million annually in recent years, seem to have become cliché.
Pakistan’s Fisheries have prospects to become a much stronger engine of economic escalation and social growth in terms of boosting export revenues, creating decent jobs, sustaining livelihoods in coastal areas, improving domestic nutrition and food security. Global demand for protein-rich fisheries products is expanding, providing chances for coastal countries like Pakistan. Combined profits from boosted marine fish production and minimal costs are conventionally projected to be worth between US$400 million and US$1,200 million over 30 years. Putting aquaculture on a growth trajectory that matches those of India and Bangladesh would enlarge the industry to annual production of over 560,000 tons after 10 years, up from the current 151,000 tons. Pakistani fish exporters obtain comparatively low prices because the majority of their product is unprocessed or targeted towards low-value market segments.
High-value markets such as the EU, Japan, and the United States are the world’s biggest markets for seafood, yet at present, they account for less than 3% of our export income from fisheries. With betterment in standard, acknowledged through international certification, our fisheries could capture a bulk of these markets. Besides economic gains, fisheries offer vital benefits for food security and nutrition. Currently 50% of women and children are malnourished, and 44% of children are stunted physically and cognitively. Fish consumption, especially among the poor, could help in improving nutrition problems. A system of Fisheries Development Funds (FDFs) along with scientific means could pull this industry out from the chaos. About 17 % of total production is traded to overseas markets; profiting US$350 million annually in export trade. In 2015, marine capture fisheries landed about 73 % of capture production and 56% of total fish production. The Indus River is the most fertile area for fisheries. Especially precious target species include shrimps, of which about 22,000 tons are caught each year.
Pakistan now has more than 29,000 marine fishing vessels in total, with about 130,000 full-time and 75,000 part-time employees. The fleet is divided roughly two thirds in Sindh and one third in Balochistan. The records suggest that between 2008 and 2016, marine fishing vessel numbers enlarged by around 3% per annum. Inshore mechanized and sail boat numbers rose by 4%, gillnetters by 3%, and trawlers by 2.5% per annum. Nine of the fourteen major species groups are already washed-out. Only two species groups indicate any sign that fishing mortality is at or below the limit required to maximize yields.
In the 1990s, ADB funded a US$15 million project for uplifting fisheries. But more than 60% of fishing households in Indus regions are living below the poverty line. Potential of Soybean Meal as a Protein Replacement in Fish Feeds a significant barrier to the future growth of the global aquaculture sector. As a highly unpreserved product, fish often needs speedy processing. The most valuable products are fresh, destined for direct human consumption ranging to 53% of global production, followed by frozen fish 26% canned fish 11% and cured fish 10%.
The fish-processing sector of Pakistan is mainly centred in Karachi. Out of 183 registered exporters and importers, 175 are registered in Karachi. About 104 are traders only, two are fishmeal operators, and 77 have a processing or packing facility. Along the Balochistan coastal zone there are 29 establishments with freezing and cold storage, most of them targeting small pelagic fish such as Indian mackerel for export. Operators report a capacity utilization of only 30-35 percent. 60% of Pakistan’s marine capture production is considered “trash fish” and is used for fishmeal. Overall, the loss of fish due to bad handling is projected to18% by weight.
During the fiscal year 2015-16, Pakistan exported approximately 140,000 tons of fish products, worth more than US$350 million. Our fisheries vary, with almost 250 demersal fish species, 50 small pelagic fish species, 15 medium-sized pelagic species, and 20 large pelagic fish species. SPS conditions and technical barriers to trade (TBT) have hurt Pakistan’s export opportunities in the past. Pakistan’s domestic market for fish and fishery products is small, relative to the size of the population. Major size of the population never eats fish at all.
—The writer is a Lahore based Prof in English and freelance columnist.