EXPORTS of fish and its preparations went up by 20 per cent in quantity and 21.35pc in value during the previous fiscal year owing to price increase in world markets and higher landing of the catch.

But every day is not a Sunday. There is a need to get ready to meet future challenges, and, as we know, the best preparation for tomorrow is doing your best today.

The Marine Fisheries Department rightly fears that following the suspension of seafood exports to the United States after an inspection visit, other countries may follow suit. Pakistan’s fish and seafood products are already banned in the European Union and Saudi Arabia. The time is, therefore, ripe to find some alternate methods to win the lost markets again.

Bangladesh is all set to launch the Hilsa fish (Palla in Sindh) soup and noodles within a couple of months. Ready-to-cook noodles and soups, chicken stock cubes and chicken powder readily available in market and are an integral part of our monthly shopping list. A team of researchers in Bangladesh have come up with a way to preserve the sought-after fish in the form of cubes and powder.

Virgo Fish and Agro Process, a local fish processing plant, will market the Hilsa products formulated by researchers at the Bangladesh Agricultural University (BAU) under a Department of Fisheries and World Fish project funded by the United States Agency for International Development.

Just like our very own Palla, Hilsa is a high-protein, high-lipid fish. Its omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids eat up the harmful cholesterols in human blood and boost the level of beneficial cholesterol, reducing the risk of myocardial infarction or stroke. But the fish is so expensive that the poor and low-income people have little or no access to the fish.

“Keeping this in mind, Hilsa soup and noodles have been formulated,” said A.K.M. Nowsad Alam, professor of the Department of Fisheries Technology at the BAU, who led the research team. The technology was developed in August last year and since then researchers have been testing the quality and consistency of the products.

“Hilsa is a very tasty fish, but many people, particularly children and foreigners, cannot sample the fish as it contains minute, sharp and branched pin bones throughout the muscles. Our effort was to prepare boneless, storable and tasty Hilsa without losing its taste, flavour and nutritive value and affordability of the product for common people.”

Unfortunately, our seafood exports has been showing a downward trend since the past three years — from $370m in 2013-14 to $325m in 2015-16. Though aquaculture is still in its infancy in Pakistan and nothing significant has so far been done to develop this as an industry equipped with latest techniques on modern lines, there is a huge potential for developing this sector, not only to earn foreign exchange but to attract potential entrepreneurs, especially from Japan and China.

After the massive success of value-addition in poultry, it is the buzzword in the seafood processing industry because of the possibility of better realisation of foreign exchange earnings and high unit value. Pakistan is doing fairly well in value-added poultry.

Pakistan has a coastline of 1,120km — covering Makran as well as the coast of Karachi — and a total fishing area of around 300,270 square kilometres. These areas are highly rich in marine life with a vast variety of species. There are still marine fisheries resources remaining to be exploited and developed.

According to a report, only carp culture is practised in inland waters despite vast fresh, brackish and marine water resources in the country. Carps are cultured in earthen ponds only on a limited scale, using mostly extensive farming practices with little inputs. Trials experimenting with shrimp culture have been carried out in the Indus delta region, but it did not succeed owing to the non-availability of hatchery-produced seed.

Our Fisheries Development Board, serving as a bridge between the public and the private sector, is focusing on the following areas:

a) Coordinating with national and provincial activities with regard to aquaculture and shrimp farming.

b) Promoting investment in aquaculture and shrimp farming.

c) Promoting joint ventures between foreign and local investors in the fisheries sector.

d) Creating enabling environment in collaboration with the government.

e) Enforcing quality management and establishing regulatory framework to promote the fisheries sector.

f) Preparing and implementing awareness and capacity building plans for public and private sector for fisheries sector development.

g) Developing market infrastructure and improving marketing of fisheries products.

h) Exploring and enabling export markets for Pakistani fisheries products.

Unfortunately, there is no mention of Research and Development (R&D) anywhere.

According to a report of the Food and Agriculture Organisation, inland fish farming is under the control of the provincial governments, which supply seed, operate hatcheries, provide extension services, collect primary data and promote fisheries through extension manuals, brochures and by arranging seminars, etc. Existing farming methods have not been developed. However, as a result of a steady stream of newcomers to the sector, there is a slow but steady improvement in technology over time.

The time has come for our Marine Fisheries Department to develop its R&D unit and come out with various options of value-addition to give a much-required boost to this industry. Assistance can be taken from the Pakistan Agricultural Research Council, which is the country’s largest research organisation and is responsible to Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock.

Some universities in the country are also involved in basic fisheries research, and they can also be funded accordingly. So, let’s grab the opportunity by start producing fish, and shrimp stock cubes, followed by fish stock cubes.

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, April 9th, 2018

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