KARACHI, Jan 14: After almost two years of the restriction imposed by the European Union on fish and shrimp import from Pakistan for failing to maintain prescribed hygienic standards at various stages of fishing, there are now strong positive indications of resumption of fish supply to 27 European member countries of the union in the next few months.

The European Union imposed a ban on fish import from Pakistan in April 2007 after having given a warning in 2005. The EU delivered a 27-page charge-sheet to Pakistan that specified the required hygienic and quarantine standards following an inspection by its three-member team in January 2007.

Next August is one indicated cut-off point to resume contacts with EU to convey that a lot has been done at the Karachi Fish Harbor for improvement and to claim that stage is set to ship fish and shrimp from Pakistan to Europe.

In Pakistan, there is a restriction on fishing from May to July which is considered to be a breeding season for many varieties of fish.

“We have done a lot of improvement in fishing boats’ structure and at other places to qualify for fish export to EU,’’ Captain Javed, Director-General of Marine Fishing Department, informed Dawn on Wednesday on telephone.

He said the EU envoy to Pakistan was invited from Islamabad to Fish Harbor last July where he was given a detailed briefing on improvements being made.

The EU appears to be satisfied on the conditions in processing plants.

In 2007, the EU authorities de-registered 11 processing plants for unhygienic conditions. Captain Javed said the conditions in processing plants have been improved considerably.

The MFD acquired four modular boats with glass fiber fish hold as required by the EU. Quite many fishermen have now acquired such boats.

Small boats that go out for three to four days trip are carrying small plastic and fiber glass containers to keep fish catch.

Almost $80 million worth of annual fish export to EU was affected from the ban imposed in 2007. But this ban apparently came as a blessing in disguise as fish exporters did not take long in diversifying markets and fish export in 2007-08 exceeded for the first time $200 million figure.

“Our fish export in the first half of this fiscal year is up by $20 million than the fish export in same period of last fiscal year,’’ Javed claimed. In 2006-07, Pakistan exported fish to about 40 countries. If EU joins the club of fish importing countries from Pakistan in 2009, fish exporters believe the number of countries would go up beyond 60 and a total volume of fish export business may exceed $350 million business.

With an improvement of fish-processing, many hitherto rejected and trash varieties of fish are becoming popular for export. Jelly fish is a poisonous variety of fish but is now being exported to China after treatment in alum and salt water. Makareil was another rejected and trash variety of fish now being shipped to Thailand and other countries.

There is yet another very small fish, hardly one inch in length said to be almost half a million ton in Pakistani seas which is caught in a special net and requires special handling.

Iran is said to have been employing this technique to export this variety of fish in frozen canned form. Efforts are being made to acquire this technology in Pakistan.

“Even now some of Pakistan’s fish and shrimp manage to find way to EU through third countries,’’ a well informed market source confided.

He disclosed that at least 40 per cent of Pakistan’s total fish catch in a year goes to Iran where fishermen get better price. “Why not regularise this trade and offer fishermen an option of better price in the home market as well,’’ he questioned.

Proper legislation, improvement in domestic market, quality processing and better fish production techniques will fetch good price to fishermen is one suggestion.

A committee of fisheries minister of Sindh and Balochistan with their respective department secretaries has been formed to draw up a legislation for an effective monitoring and effective restriction on use of banned fishing nets. This committee is meeting early next month to draft a legislation.

The committee is also expected to draw up a programme for social uplift of fishermen and improvement in quality of life in their villages in two provinces.

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