Friday September 24, 2021

Fishermen seek better prices as new season approaches

HYDERABAD: After a two-month ban on fishing in the sea, the new fishing season is set to start on August 1, but fishermen are uncertain because of the current market prices and the monopoly of traders and middlemen.

The fisher folk feel that the middlemen deprive them of their fair share at local jetties, which at times does not even help them recover the cost of diesel and rations they use on their boats when they go out to the sea.

Reports gathered from the coastal fishermen residing in different areas along the 350km coastline in Sindh are tired of exploitation. They have not been receiving a fair price for seafood, including precious shrimps and other commercially important species, as well as trash fish that is used for fishmeal used in animal feed, especially for poultry, farm-raised fish, and pets.

“We do not know the reason as to why, just when the new fishing season is to start on August 1, traders have set the rate of trash fish at Rs22/kg instead of Rs35-Rs38/kg a few days ago,” said Akhtar Shaikh, a community activist in Rehri Mayan Village, Karachi.

Trash fish is used for poultry feed and mostly the factories situated nearby buy it in bulk. But with the lower price set by traders, the fishing community would be in a financially vulnerable situation.

A large number of boats running from different jetties, including Keti Bunder, Shah Bunder from Thatta and Sujawal district and parts of Balochistan coast are known for bringing trash fish.

The business of trash fish is not being dealt with at the major market in Karachi, and mostly traders buy this fish for meal manufacturing units established near Ibrahim Hydri and other localities.

In Keti Bunder and on isolated islands, people follow the old practice of drying fish for fishmeal. These boats for trash fish carry larger groups, comprising 20-40 for pulling and sorting out the catch for the market. Only a few modern boats have installed machines for pulling nets in the open sea, the community activists said.

These boats mostly operate from zero to 12 nautical miles sea zone and catch the products.

In fact, the prices of diesel and ration have increased manifold but the product does not have value, Shaikh added.

“Hardly a few days ago, we sold our catch (trash fish) at Rs35/kg, which is being refused by the traders, who now offer a mere Rs22/kg only,” he disclosed.

Majeed Motani, a seasoned boat captain, sharing his experience linked the rates with demand and supply. “When there is higher supply, the rates usually go down. But in case of low supply the demand increases and the rates jump high.”

He realised that despite many changes in the overall industrial sectors, the workforce in fisheries still do not have any incentive. He said they have suggested the government to set support prices of commercially important products to avoid exploitation of the poor workforce at the hands of traders.

There are around 52 units, manufacturing fishmeal (poultry feed) through trash fish. They supply the feed to the poultry sector across Pakistan. These factories have easy access to raw material (trash fish) in the coastal areas.

Fishermen pleaded that since the prices of everything they used for fishing trips were high, the prices of products should be high too; however, the opposite was happening and the products were getting devalued, making it impossible to recover the cost of fishing.

Poultry rate has jumped high to Rs400-500/kg or more in the open market, but fishermen, who provide the basic raw materials, remain deprived of this benefit, which raises several questions.

The News has learned that Karachi Fisheries Harbour, a main market for seafood products, has cleaned auction halls and market premises.

Asif Bhatti, president, Native Indigenous Fishermen Association (Nifa), representing island communities in Karachi said, “Price matter of fish for the new season is yet to resolve, despite frequent meetings with stakeholders at Karachi harbour, Fishermen Cooperative Society (FCS) and marine agencies.”

He said around 80 percent of fish catch goes to processing factories, while 20 percent was sold in the local markets. “It is the government’s responsibility to set prices like it does for some other major crops in agriculture.”

About trash fish, Bhatti said it was not fit for human consumption. Long ago, he said fishermen used to dry trash fish in open areas, courtyards in coastal villages and on islands. But now factories have mechanisms to process fresh catch for the feed.

There are reports that despite a two-month ban on shrimp catch during June and July, some boats continued their activities. This happens because the government does not provide any support during these two months to the idle fishermen.

Presently, shrimps – both low and high quality – are pouring onto the jetties and in the local markets for sale because of poor monitoring systems to implement the ban.

Fishing is one of the largest industries, providing a source of livelihood to thousands of people who work on boats, at jetties, in the main market as loaders and transporters, and at the fishmeal processing and packaging units.

But despite their contributions to the economy, the government does not have any incentive, safety nets and protection available for this large workforce.