Despite a ban by European Union on import of Pakistani fish and fish-related products, the export of seafood is picking up as the local industry makes inroads in new markets.

European countries were the leading importers before the ban on seafood from Pakistan in April 2007 because of poor hygienic conditions at the fish harbours. The loss in exports since then has been estimated at $50 million per annum or a drop in earnings by a quarter, said a fish trader.

Efforts are however being made to convince European countries to resume buying while improving quality standards set by the EU importers. According to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, export of fish and fish products increased 1.61 per cent during the first four months of this fiscal year to $98.697 million from $97.131 million in the same period last year.

In terms of volume, seafood exports increased by 14.36 per cent, up from 37,592 metric tons last year to 42,990 metric tons during the period under review.

Sindh Governor Dr Ishrat ul Ebad, who visited the UK last month, held talks with experts from the fishery sector to pave the way for lifting of ban on export of shrimps from Pakistan to the members of the European Union. Dr Ebad held talks with experts and consultants in Belfast to address the reservations of the EU community. He assured them that international quality standards would be strictly complied for export quality shrimps and importers would have no cause to complain.

The required standards, he assured experts, would be maintained, right from the fish catch procedure and practices to their dispatch to final destinations. Special care would be taken to improve hygiene and quality of products. Sindh Governor and the EU experts extensively discussed modes that may help Pakistan acquire the required export quality standards. The experts stressed the need to promote modern aqua culture techniques.

Holland’s Ambassador to Pakistan Gajus Scheltema had earlier disclosed that a powerful lobby of international fish exporters was strongly opposing and creating obstacles in import of fish from Pakistan by the EU countries.

He, however, said Netherlands was assisting the Balochistan government to develop Pasni Port and Fish Harbour that would help Pakistan to enhance fish exports to the EU. He pointed out that a firm, engaged in fish exports, had sought license to export fish from Pasni to the EU countries.

Scheltema pointed out that the government of Japan had provided a grant of Rs800 million for the rehabilitation of Pasni Fish Harbour. Holland is engaged in rehabilitation of the harbour so that it meets the required EU quality operational standards.

In order to recapture the EU market, authorities have taken several measures to improve the whole system including improvement of two auction halls besides making Korangi Fish Harbour functional.

The Sindh government initiated the Rs558-million project for improvement of the fishing industry. Priority was given to boat modification and more than 400 boats had been modified per specification of the EU at a cost of around Rs0.2 million to Rs1.3 million each. The government paid 75 per cent of the modification cost.

Pakistan Fisheries Exporters Association Chairman Faisal Iftikhar said there was some progress in the communication with EU authorities, and Marine Fish Department was sending further documents and observations to the EU. “We are hopeful,” he said.

If the EU allows import of Pakistani seafood, earnings could cross $350 million as some varieties of shrimp did not get a good price in other markets compared to the European Union.

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