Emerging fisheries sector in Pakistan & CPEC

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Reema Shaukat

FISHERIES is defined as the science of producing fish and other aquatic resources for the purpose of providing human food, apart from having fishing for recreational purposes like sports or for obtaining fish products like oils. Fisheries include wild fisheries and farm fishing both in oceans and fresh water. Generally 90 percent of fishing takes place in open seas and an estimated figure suggests that about 500 million people worldwide are economically dependent on fisheries. When we talk about Pakistan, our country is blessed with more than 1000kms long coastline which not only carries diverse types of sea food and fish but has immense economic potential which can be tapped via this coastline.

Pakistan has both marine and inland farm fishing resources and it is said that about one million tonnes per year economic potential can be achieved from this sector of fisheries. Apart from fishing in open seas and having farms near fresh waterways, Pakistan is also promoting aquaculture which can facilitate fisheries more. Aquaculture is the breeding, nurturing and harvesting of fish, algae and other organisms in all types of water environments. With the growing demand of seafood, western countries particularly with the advancement of technology, has made aquaculture possible both in coastal marine waters, open seas and oceans. Aquaculture is a method used to produce food and other commercial products, restore habitat and refill wild stocks, and rebuild populations of threatened and endangered fish species. Aquaculture is yet to be promoted in Pakistan, whereas this sector has immense potential for Pakistan, it needs a lot of improvement too. According to statistics, the fisheries sector in Pakistan as a whole contributes to about one percent to the country’s GDP and provides jobs for about one percent of the country’s labour force, which is unfortunately very low for a country where potential exists but is not given much importance. Freshwater carp farming is the major aquaculture activity in Punjab, Sindh and KPK. The northern mountains of Pakistan have good potential for trout culture but production in these colder regions is still very small.

While considering CPEC as a golden opportunity and with the fact that China is helping Pakistan in every sector to prosper and develop, CPEC carries immense significance. CPEC after energy and infrastructure development in phase-I has now entered in phase-II where focus is on industrialization. Taking the opportunities available during phase-II developmental stage, Pakistan can improve a lot in fisheries and aquaculture sector as China in the last two decades have extensively grown in marine aquaculture and freshwater inland fisheries. In Pakistan, earlier research by teams of both China and Pakistan suggests that Khyber- Pakhtunkhwa, AJK and Gilgit-Baltistan are the major cold water fish potential areas of Pakistan. They possess a rich variety of freshwater habitats, including major rivers, streams and lakes. These fresh water resources offer significant opportunities for the development of inland fisheries and aquaculture. Pakistan Agriculture Research Council took an initiative of establishing a cold water fish laboratory at its research station namely Mountain Agriculture Research Centre (MARC) in Juglote, Gilgit with the technical cooperation of Gansu Fisheries Research Institute (GFRI), China to produce seed of new cold water fish species and to multiply them in Gilgit-Baltistan, KP and AJK after necessary initial research. Such initiatives like tapping existing industry, training of farmers, establishing industries and research on fisheries can transform opportunities into economic gains but it will also improve livelihood of particular areas. Cold water fisheries especially trout farming is an area with immense potential for the poverty reduction and providing livelihood to the population of northern areas and development of fisheries in these areas will not only help tackle food security challenge but fish as an important source of protein can be alternate to other expensive meat products. Apart from trout, other cold water fish species like Rainbow, golden trout, brook trout and salmon fish can also enhance overall yield of fish. Likewise, if northern areas have cold water fish, Pakistan’s coastal region has moderate climate characterized by short and mild winters which provides appropriate environment for longer-duration production cycles of catfish, tilapia, sole, shrimp and lobster.

Pakistan, while declaring year 2020 as the year for ‘Blue Economy’ has realized the potential it carries in its seas and coastal areas but yet that has long way to go with more challenges. According to Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, in June 2019, Pakistan exported $32.168 million of seafood, which is higher by 19 percent or $5.125 million from $27.043 million in June 2018. Seafood export quantity also grew by 19 percent or 2392 metric tons to 15,213 metric tons in June 2019 from 12,821 metric tons in June 2018. However, in terms of volume, Pakistan’s seafood export declined to 195,523 metric tons in July-June 2018-19 from 196,927 metric tons in July-June 2017-18, showing a fall of one percent or 1404 metric tons. Pakistan has a lot of potential for sea-crop in order to fulfil demand by other countries, but yes in this regard governmental policies, public-private partnership and more importantly we as sea-blind nation need to improve ourselves. CPEC can facilitate us in the domain of fisheries as China is world’s largest producer, consumer, processor and exporter of fisheries and well understands Asian and other markets for fish.

Pakistan having different varieties of fish fauna in its waters can benefit from not only identifying potential markets but having SEZ’s in particular areas can help in storage and preservation of sea food where warehouses can be established with proper requirements to maintain the quality for longer period. Worldwide fishery is considered as a cost-effective business and countries invest a lot in the development of such areas having economic potential. In Pakistan, we have major fish harbours at Karachi Fisheries Harbour, Korangi Fish Harbour, Pasni Fish Harbour and Gwadar Fish, where traditional methods of fish catching are quite helpful but support to local fisherman in terms of financial help, provision of better fishing equipment and safety boats, awareness and knowledge about sea climate and nature of fish existing in particular area can be very beneficial to them. Initiation of different projects under the umbrella of CPEC, will not only help Pakistan to work more on those areas which can give economic boom to the country and fisheries is one of those sectors where potential can be explored with joint ventures, enhanced technology, better administration and burgeoning markets.