FISHERIES, like agriculture, are also a part of the primary sector; therefore along with its counterpart, fisheries also play a crucial role in enhancing the economies of developing countries. In Pakistan, over a million people look to the seas for sustenance. Many fishing villages exist on the coastline of Pakistan. The short-comings in the fisheries sector of Pakistan directly affect these communities. The government of Pakistan has therefore recognized the fisheries sector as a component of Pakistan’s Poverty Reduction Strategy.
The Stock Assessment Surveys in Pakistan indicate that the marine fisheries resources of the country are extremely over-exploited. This has been the collective outcome of various detrimental anthropogenic activities. Marine fisheries in Pakistan are still open access with no limited entry; the number of vessels in Pakistan has not only increased, but they have become larger, motorized and are utilizing mechanized gear, previously unavailable; and fishing is being done down the food web. Larger individuals of organisms such as sharks, rays, guitarfish, groupers, croakers, catfish and ribbonfish are no longer found. The most vulnerable organisms have been the demersal elasmobranchs including sharks, skates, and rays. One of the factors contributing to this decline has been detrimental fishing practices such as bottom trawling for shrimp and gillnetting for the targeted fishing of tuna. Trawlers tend to cross the 200 nm limit and have even been found near Iran. Fishermen change flags according to the territory they are entering into and have also made fake passports and NICs. The smuggling of fish, high sea transhipment and poaching is totally out of control. The Pakistan Navy and MSA are now working on the enforcement of installing tracking systems into fishing vessels.
Since proper fishing practices are not adhered to, post-harvest losses are extremely high, leading to the shortage of raw material for processing while fishmeal processing proliferates. The two main fish harbours in Karachi include the Korangi Fisheries Harbour and the Karachi Fisheries Harbour. Both these harbours consist of their own set of issues. The Karachi Fisheries Harbour is owned by the Sindh government. Visiting this harbour, one is witnessing incredibly unhygienic practices. After landing, fish is kept on the floor, the trolleys and crates being used are incredibly unhygienic, the workers’ hygiene is unacceptable, there is a lack of measures to control pests, birds and the entry of unauthorized people and the ice being used to store the fish is incredibly unhygienic. The Karachi Fisheries Harbour is also over congested with boats. These careless practices have resulted in a ban of the export of fish from Pakistan to the EU.
The Korangi Fisheries Harbour is a Federal Harbour and was established under Ordinance number XVI of 1982, to exploit fisheries resources beyond the 12 nm territorial waters. The main issue at the Korangi Fisheries Harbour arises with the operation of the deep sea fishing vessels as the deep sea fishing policy only remained operational for two years, from 2003 to 2005. The expression of interest (EOI) for deep-sea fishing licensees has been introduced as a joint-venture with locals. The approval must go through the Inter Ministerial Scrutiny Committee. The Korangi Fish Harbour is therefore not fully operational, and the landed catch is transported to the Karachi Fisheries Harbour for auction. However, the Korangi Fisheries Harbour is trying to implement an auction hall up to EU standards. Another issue arises with shifting the boats from the Karachi to the Korangi Fish Harbour.
The fish is handled poorly onboard fishing vessels and the cool chain is hardly maintained. The fish is transported under unhygienic conditions, trash fishing is the main fishing operation, drying fish for fishmeal is a highly undesirable act, and the conditions in most processing plants is undesirable. To make post-harvest improvements, the handling and storage onboard needs to be improved. A reduction in the fishing period is also required. Trash fishing needs to immediately be controlled if not banned and ice should be used for trash fish as well. On fishing vessels, hand washing and toilet facilities must be made mandatory. Auctions should be conducted on stainless steel of the highest quality and not on the floor. The transportation also needs immediate improvement.
Improvements in the processing plants all need to measure up to the same level so that they may be up to EU standards. A ban needs to be imposed on the processing and packaging in Machar Colony and other squatter settlements. Pre-processing industries such as the shrimp peeling industry needs to be improved. Processing needs to be conducted in authorized plants. Live fish needs to be exported; lobster, mud crab, razor clam and ivory shells are already being exported while there is immense potential for groupers in Persian Gulf countries. The Quality control systems also need revamping.
In conclusion, to ensure sustainable fisheries and to increase the fisheries contribution in the GDP of Pakistan, various measures need to be taken; the fishing fleets need to be reduced and regulated, best practices should be ensured throughout the value chain, prolonged closed seasons for fishing should be the norm, area closures and restrictions on gear need to be implemented, community-based management is needed, some areas need to be declared Marine Protected Areas, illegal trade needs to be addressed, and ecological certifications should be put in place.
—The writer is a Researcher – Marine Fisheries and Food Security, at National Institute of Maritime Affairs (NIMA), Islamabad