India looks to raise marine fisheries production
Fishing boats in Sassoon Dock in Mumbai
David Hayes explores India fishing industry.
The Fishery Survey of India (FSI) is looking to upgrade its fleet of marine fisheries survey vessels after recently moving into a new headquarters building near to Sassoon Dock’s fishing boat harbour in Mumbai’s Colaba district in western India.
Currently FSI, which employs 752 staff throughout India including 150 staff located in Mumbai, operates a fleet of 11 ocean survey vessels, each staffed by a crew of 22.
Two survey vessels are based in each of five major ports along India’s coastline – Mumbai, Goa, Kochi, Chennai and Visakhapatnam, plus a single survey vessel in Port Blair in the Andaman Islands.
“We have approached the ministry for six new ocean survey vessels; also, we have upgraded our existing survey vessels,” explained a Fishery Survey of India source, “Four of them are for surveying tuna stocks for longline fishing while the rest are for mid-water fishing and trawling fish stock surveys.
“Our fishing survey vessels also provide training to trainee fishing boat officers to give them sea experience for competitive exams to become fishing boat skippers or chief engineers.”
FSI is responsible for the survey, assessment and monitoring of marine fisheries resources in India’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The organisation’s survey results recently have prompted the government to encourage further development of seafood production for export following the discovery of new deepwater fish stocks.
Efforts to increase fisheries exports have been growing recently following the discovery of additional marine fisheries resources as a result of Fishery Survey of India’s ocean fisheries stock survey activities.
“In deeper waters over 100 metres we have observed a lot of untapped oceanic resources, including deep sea prawns and squid,” the source explained. “The idea now is to tap these oceanic resources. Recently this has been operated through the Marine Products Export Development Authority under the Ministry of Commerce.”
Fisheries occupy an important role in India’s socio-economic development with about 1.9 million fishermen reliant on fishing, of which about half are full time while a large number of other people are engaged in the processing, sale and handling of seafood products.
According to government figures, about 80,000 mechanised fishing vessels currently are in use along with about 75,000 motorised fishing boats and around 50,000 traditional non-motorised fishing craft.
India is the world’s second largest fish producing country after China, with current estimated total output of 9.58 million tonnes in Financial Year 2014-2015.
According to India’s National Fisheries Development Board NFDB), marine fisheries account for about 35% of total fisheries output and aquaculture production around 65% of overall output.
Andhra Pradesh is the largest fisheries producing state, accounting for about 20% of total national output, followed by West Bengal with 15% of total output, Gujarat with 8%, Kerala 7%, and Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu 6% each.
India has a long coastline running 8,118km in length and an Exclusive Economic Zone covering 2 million square kilometres including 530,000km2 of continental shelf.
Marine capture fisheries production is greater in waters off the west coast of India due to the large continental shelf in the Arabian Sea
“Around 70% of India’s marine catch currently is taken off the west coast and around 30% is caught off the east coast. The proportion changes each year,” the FSI source noted.
“Also, the upwelling phenomenon is more active off the west coast which increases the nutrients in our west coast waters.”
Most fish caught in India are destined for domestic consumption. However, the volume of seafood products destined for export continues to grow, both marine capture and aquaculture products.
Fishery exports reached 1.05 million tonnes in 2014-2015, according to NFDB, worth around INR 334.4 billion (US$5.57 billion).
The United States was the largest importer, taking 26% in value terms followed by Southeast Asian countries with 26% combined, the EU which imported 20%, Japan 9%, Middle East countries 6% and China 4%.
India’s business press has recently reported a number of seafood exporting company executives expressing optimism that Britain’s import of Indian seafood could grow in future following the Brexit result of the June referendum.
Prior to Britain joining the EU around 30% to 40% of India’s seafood exports were shipped to the UK, roughly the same proportion that was exported to the United States.
Freed from EU trade restrictions, Britain could prove to be a growing market for Indian fisheries exporters, some exporters argue, while others are less optimistic and believe that Britain’s present seafood import pattern will remain largely unchanged.
“Exports are growing. The government is encouraging exports, so after domestic consumption the rest of the fish catch goes for export,” the FSI source remarked.
“Tuna, prawns, squid and cuttlefish are exported, mostly processed. There is large scale tuna processing in Tamil Nadu state in the south, while squid and cuttlefish are caught and processed all over India.
“Prawns are produced mostly on the west coast in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Kerala states, and Andhra Pradesh state on the east coast.
Frozen shrimp accounted for 31% of marine product exports by volume and 64% by value in 2013-2014 when 984,000 tonnes of marine seafood worth INR 302 billion was exported.
Fresh and frozen fish accounted for 33% of marine fisheries exports by volume and 14.2% by value, while frozen cuttlefish represented 7% of marine exports by volume and almost 5% by value.
Frozen squid is the other major marine export product accounting for 9% of marine exports by volume and almost 6% by value.
“Marine fishing is not in a bad situation, it’s stable,” the FSI source commented. “A lot of government policies are in place including a fishing restrictions policy and state government fishing policies. Fish landings are increasing slightly but mostly the catches are still stable.”
As part of efforts to protect marine resource stocks and encourage sustainable fishing, the government enforces seasonal fishing bans on important fishing grounds and has tightened up the issuing of fishing boat licenses to prevent the national fleet size from growing any further for the moment.
Seasonal bans to protect fish stocks include a 61 day ban on fishing along India’s west coast from 1 June to 31 July, which has replaced the former 46 day fishing ban.
Meanwhile, fishing along India’s east coast is prohibited from 15 April to 14 June each year.
“The east coast fishing ban is earlier than the west coast ban as the monsoon arrives two months earlier along the east coast compared with the west coast monsoon,” the source explained.
“Government of India fishing bans started five years ago. They were increased to 61 days from 46 days after consultations with stakeholders as the stakeholders wanted a longer ban period.
“Before the central government bans were introduced there were state government fishing bans and voluntary fishing bans by fishermen themselves. The 61 day fishing ban covers the main fish breeding period.”
Fisheries now are subject to more regulation and restrictions than previously as the central and state governments increase enforcement of regulations designed to promote sustainable marine fishing development.
“We have had compulsory fishing vessel registration for the past three years with strict enforcement by the coast guard,” the FSI source said.
“The government uses a smartcard system for all fishermen – motorised, mechanised and traditional fishermen must all carry their registration card.”
Under recently introduced new regulations all fishing vessels must be registered with the Fisheries Department in their home state.
Government regulations originally required all fishing vessels over 20 metres in length to be registered on the national ship register maintained by the Directorate General of Shipping.
Last year a decision was made to change the registration requirement to registration with home state government’s Fisheries Department, the reason being that the Directorate General of Shipping register covers all types of ships while India’s national government wanted licensing and control of fishing boat activities to be administered at the local state government level.
“The number of fishing vessels was growing but because of restrictions and enforcement the rate of growth was reduced,” the source said. “Mechanised fishing vessels were increasing the most; now the Fisheries Department is not giving any new additional licenses, they just give licenses to replace old fishing vessels with new vessels.”
Foreign vessels are not permitted to fish in India’s EEZ waters which are restricted to Indian-flagged vessels since joint venture fishing operations with foreign fishing boats were banned over 10 years ago to protect fish stocks.
“We get a lot of yellowfin and skipjack tuna. Some skipjack is canned here, most is exported,” the source said. “Most tuna here are caught by mechanised vessels; India is almost all longline fishing for tuna but there is some pole and line fishing off western India.
“Fishing fleets do not deploy purse seiners as Maharashtra and Kerala states have banned them while other states have restrictions on purse seiners which can only operate under a Letter of Permission (LOP).”
In addition to maintaining current fishing boat numbers by not issuing additional licenses, the Fisheries Department is looking to encourage fishing boat owners to switch fishing activities to more plentiful species.
“There is pressure now on coastal fisheries and a move to reduce this pressure by converting trawler licenses to longliner licenses for tuna and other species,” the FSI source remarked. “However, fishing for a lot of shark species is banned and shark finning is completely banned.”
The Indian government provides grants subsidising 50% of the conversion cost of converting fishing trawlers to longliners. Trawlers over 20 metres receive a INR 1.5 million grant towards conversion costs while trawlers less than 20 metres long receive a subsidy worth INR 750,000 towards conversion expenses.
“The scheme started in 2003 but has not been well used as the subsidy is 50% only and where will the trawler owners get money for the rest of the conversion cost as banks will not lend them money? Generally there are a lot of formalities, so how can fishermen get the necessary loans?” the source asked.
Limited finance availability also is restricting fishermen’s ability to purchase their own boats in preference to seeking employment as a crew member.
“The government is giving a lot of training to fishermen, but the problem is that they don’t have money to purchase fishing vessels,” the source noted. “Training is given by the Fishery Survey of India for longliner fishing, we also have given training to the Coast Guard. The role of the Coast Guard in fisheries is to protect and enforce sustainability.”
Meanwhile, the government is supporting various initiatives to boost development of the fisheries sector, both marine fisheries as well as aquaculture.
In addition to providing funding for basic fisheries infrastructure, the government also is using loans from the World Bank and other agencies to monitor and limit the impact of coastal region disasters including cyclones and tsunamis through better planning and construction of disaster proof facilities along with provision of early warning systems to protect coastal communities.
The Fisheries Department in Tamil Nadu state, for example, recently invited bids for the construction of civil works to ensure the permanent stability of the coastal inlet of the Tamaraparani River and fish landing centre at Punnakayai village in Thoothukudi district as part of ongoing work in the state on various coastal disaster risk reduction schemes.
“There are a lot of schemes to promote fishing and fisheries including building fishing harbours, ice making factories, fish landing centres, mobile delivery vans, cold storage facilities, auction halls and fish markets,” the source said.
“The Government of India now operates most of this through the National Fisheries Development Board (NFDB) in Hyderabad, under the Ministry of Agriculture.”
NFDB was set up in 2008 to speed up project approval for fisheries development and increase fisheries production. The board is responsible for most fisheries related infrastructure development except fishing harbours which remain the responsibility of the national government.
“Fishing ports are being improved. The central government is doing this through state governments. There are a lot of schemes for infrastructure improvement,” the source said.
“States submit their harbour proposals through the government or the NFDB which is concentrated on marine and aquaculture infrastructure and marketing to increase production as marine fisheries production has levelled out.
“The emphasis on marketing is so consumers can get hygienic food. The NFDB also is trying to develop the cold chain to supply more fishery products.”
Meanwhile, fisheries processing is growing as the volume of export rises.
“Each village, town and city has a fish market. Most are eaten fried or cooked in a curry served with rice or bread depending on the state,” the source explained.
“Marine fish are eaten mostly in coastal provinces but also are supplied to the cities. For example, Bangalore and Hyderabad are not coastal cities but people still eat fish there.
“Oil sardines are popular in Kerala while Indian mackerel, ribbon fish and carangids are popular all over the country. Hilsa is popular in Bengal; pomfret is popular, but it’s expensive.”