Marine fisheries: Neglected sector of Pakistan’s economy

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Naghmana Zafar

SINCE past few years; marine experts and government officials have been discussing same aged old challenges faced by fisheries sector of Pakistan, but loss has been done on ground to achieve a ‘thriving fisheries sector’. Traditionally, overfishing, poaching by Indian fishermen, use of banned nets/mesh size, boat registration and licensing, bycatch, poor storage and hygiene conditions are some intrinsic threats to fisheries in Pakistan. This sector is so overwhelmed with conventional issues that emerging un-conventional challenges like global warming, climate change, deforestation of mangroves, loss of biodiversity etc are secluded to many of us. The maritime area attributed to provincial jurisdiction for fishing is about 12 nautical miles from baseline that is territorial water zone. According to statistics available, more or less four hundred thousand people are depended on this sector for their livelihood. This accounts for less than one per cent of country’s labour force. The reported value of seafood export $247.991 million in year 2018-19 is lesser against $264.217 million for year 2017-18. The monetary contribution of fisheries, as sub-sector of agriculture, is 0.4 per cent in over all GDP of the country.
A number of all inclusive, well codified federal and provincial mechanisms are in placed to govern fisheries in Pakistan. It is mainly ‘failure’ of implementing bodies combined with lack of awareness amongst fishermen community which has caused unprecedented damage to this sector. Fishing, all around the world, is no more a matter of livelihood or food for coastal community; it has become an industry with strong economic interests. The sector has been termed as one of the most significant maritime industry for blue growth. A number of frameworks and guidelines from FAO, WWF, ILO, World Bank and others international agencies are available for maintenance and growth of marine fisheries. But Pakistan could not make much out of this trend. The experts have identified more than 500 species as potential seafood export items from marine zones of Pakistan, nonetheless about 100 species of fish, shrimps, crabs and lobsters are marketed in foreign countries. The volume of seafood exports in 2018-19 (from July to Feb) has been decreased almost two per cent when compared to previous year; in contrast with the global trend which reflects 13.9 percent increase in the fish production in Western Indian Ocean Region. Over and above, Pakistani industry is still under sanctions for trading in European markets except few exporters.
Deterioration of fisheries sector in Pakistan is not sudden. Negligence of our fishermen, unsustainable practices and ineffective implementation of regulations caused this situation. After 18th Amendment the provinces have been devolved more autonomy/powers for development, planning and execution of policies for a number of sectors including fisheries. Both provinces, Sindh and Balochistan, instead of learning from each other’s experience and complimenting for development of this sector have indulged into competition. Native fishers are also facing difficulty to acclimatise with deep sea fishing policy. Further, NGOs working for fisherman community are hopeless. Except arguing the toss, they have not done anything impressive to improve social conditions of fishers or raise awareness amongst them about protection of ocean resources and new trends in fisheries. Education, safety and survival training, need for sustainable fishing practices, hygiene and health issues, managing small scale fisheries, developing seafood business on international standards, awareness on regulatory issues and environment protection could have been their focused areas, but these NGOs have become a manipulating players in efforts to develop fisheries.
While blue growth to develop maritime economy is focus of government, marine fisheries and aqua/mariculture do not seem to be a priority area. All around the world aquaculture has emerged as a booming trend to enhance contribution of fisheries in blue economy. Review of Global Marine Fish Catch and Aquaculture Production (Source: FAO 2018) constant increase in the past few years. However, Pakistani Fishers are lagging far behind; even when compared with South Asian neighbours, where India and Bangladesh account for 7.1 and 2.9 per cent of total world aquaculture production respectively. Small and Medium Enterprises Development Authority (SMEDA), Pakistan, does not provide any pre-feasibility studies related to cultivation of marine organisms or investment opportunities in marine fisheries. More than 1000 km long coastline can be effectively utilised for developing farms for production of marine species. It is the most viable and lucrative solution for restoration of marine fisheries in Pakistan. It has the potential to cater for blue growth as well as emerging food security needs of the country. Fishers of Pakistan have to realise that harvesting marine resources for economic gain at the cost of nature will leave us with empty ocean. Fishermen have to empty their nets, adopt non traditional methods and follow instructions of experts and scientists if they want future generations to have fish from oceans.
— The writer is a maritime researcher at National Centre for Maritime Policy Research, Karachi.