Pakistan needs to improve hygienic controls in fishing value chain
ISLAMABAD-Pakistan needs to improve hygienic controls in the fishing value chain, which will help increase export value, said an expert. Fishing in Pakistan contributes only 0.4% to the gross domestic product (GDP), but it still plays a crucial role in developing the economy by providing employment opportunities to a significant number of people. As the sector directly employs 390,000 people, and when secondary jobs such as processing, transporting, and retailing are considered, the number rises to between 900,000 and 1,800,000 jobs in total.
It is a profitable profession and a promising means to earn precious foreign exchange for the country. Currently, the fish and seafood exports of Pakistan are far below its real potential. According to statistics released by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS), Pakistan’s seafood exports from July-January 2022-23 were around $261.645 million. However, the sector has the potential to contribute up to $2-2.5 billion to the GDP if it has a proper deep-sea fishing policy. According to Aimen Zulfiqar, an associate research fellow at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), Pakistan’s fishery sector is being degraded by overfishing, pollution and environmental hazards. She said Pakistan needs to rebuild its fishing industry and introduce new techniques. She said fish processing in Pakistan is outdated and under-capitalised, which contributes to the relatively low-value addition of the sector. As a highly perishable commodity, fish often needs rapid processing. Fresh items, with a 53% share of global output, are the most valued for direct human consumption, followed by frozen fish (26%), canned fish (11%), and cured fish (10%). Processing at various intensities results in different value multipliers, which has significant implications for the potential growth in fishing exports.
“Fish are delicate protein items and putrefy very quickly if not iced or frozen as soon as possible,” she said. Aimen said although the volume of seafood exports is rising, we are still unable to progress according to our true potential due to a variety of issues, such as inadequate processing facilities and low-quality controls. According to Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF), approximately 90% of the fish consumed in Pakistan is decayed, and unsafe for human intake. Fish should be kept between 0 and 5 degrees Celsius to protect them from rotting. Pakistan exports about 10% of its fish production, while the remaining is degraded as most boats lack the facility of appropriate deep freezers and other resources to store the fish. Aimen said fish exported from Pakistan typically sells for $2.3/kg in the international market. “Compared to our neighbouring countries, the average price is around $7/kg in the region. The fishing sector can be improved by providing education to fishermen related to modern technologies,” she emphasised.
The researcher said a plan has been launched by Karachi Fish Harbour Authority (KFHA) and Fishermen Cooperative Society (FCS) to maintain seafood hygienic conditions on boats and in fish processing plants. It has been implemented, and maintenance takes place three times a day at Karachi fish harbour (at its markets, jetties and export zone area). But Pakistan’s fishing business still needs modern techniques and advancement to boost exports.
Aimen said improvements to biosecurity and food safety systems could help Pakistan gain access to international markets and reduce risks that hold back private investment. She said large-scale overfishing threatens the major commercial fish stocks, some of which are even already low. She said stocks and harvests will continue to decrease if fishing intensity is not lowered. At present, Pakistan’s marine fisheries are largely open access, with few effective mechanisms to limit fishing effort through input controls, such as the number of fishing licences, or output controls, such as a quota system. She said the government must introduce policies to fully exploit the export potential of this crucial sector.