Monday October 02, 2023

Netting fish customers gets tricky as purchasing power erodes

February 24, 2022

HYDERABAD: Khalid Hussain, running a shop at an old fish market in the coastal locality Ibrahim Hydri, Karachi, cries against difficulties, as the community people have yet not accepted the increase in prices of fish.

Vendors who source fish from the local jetties pay a high price due to the hike in the cost of fuel. To recover that cost, they had to raise the rates of fish. However, it seems difficult to get a good return as the purchasing power of their regular customers has eroded.

Giving an example of the recent rise in prices of diesel and petrol products, Hussain said, “It has impacted badly on the purchasing power of poor fishermen families, whose members have either lost their jobs on boats or earn very little pay for uncertain work.”

According to Hussain, a few months ago common fish species were available at Rs300-350/kg, which they were now compelled to sell at Rs500-600/kg. “Similarly, larger sized shrimps are quite costly, which we sell at Rs1,200-1,500/kg, while the cost of small sized prawn is Rs300-400/kg at the retail shops.”

He said they were careful not to fix a higher profit margin, keeping in mind the affordability of the community people.

Majnoo, affectionately known as Maznoo, another shopkeeper has also put dried -- salty fish and dried shrimps out for sale. He receives dried fish from Khadda, Lyari and dried prawns from Sujawal and Badin districts.

Salt fish is available at Rs400-500/kg, while dried shrimps are priced Rs400/kg, depending on the quality. The shopkeepers have small packs of dried prawns, which they sell for Rs100/pack.

Very few people buy the small packs of dried prawns or pieces of salty fish.

Presently, only a few families in Khadda neighbourhoods in Lyari, preserve salty fish carefully and supply it to different fish selling points for earning a little extra income. Shopkeepers preferably get quality dried fish from customers to maintain their credibility within the clients.

Daily trade activities at the fish market begin early in the morning and last till sunset. It is accessible to community women who buy the products they need.

Elderly fishermen believe that marine fish, both fresh and dried, have elements to protect them from many diseases. That is why most of the community people consume it fondly.

Shops have a variety of seafood products except freshwater fish.

The place attracts a large number of community women and workers to purchase fish and prawn, both fresh and dried, with required spices and ration used in the cooking of seafood. All items are available at reasonable rates.

All coastal towns and larger villages have similar fish markets for the local communities. But freshwater fish are kept in a very few coastal markets.

Noor Muhammad Thahimor, a community activist of Jati town in Sujawal district, said not only local people but a large number of consumers come to buy dried salt fish and dried prawns.

About the activity at jetties, he said traders have a mechanism to do grading of catch at the landing site. Traders prefer taking quality products to the Karachi Fisheries Harbour premises, while low quality was sold to local shopkeepers, accessible to the community. In Thatta district, Gharo, Keti Bunder and Baghan towns have attractive fish markets with a variety of salty dried fish species and prawns.

Vendors said people with various health problems approach them to buy dried salt fish, which were supposed to cure their ailments.

Ayoub Shan, a community activist in Ibrahim Hydri said the market was established by some elderly fishermen, who realised they were no longer able to continue traditional work on boats and pulling heavy fishing nets.

Now this market attracts a large number of clients and vendors, who run their businesses peacefully.

He said similar markets in village Rehri and Bengali muhalla were also available. But this market has more choice for customers in terms of variety as well as quality food, especially dried fish and prawns.

Giving the background, he said traditionally men on boats stayed in the open sea for a week, while women back home were responsible to run domestic affairs independently. This market is accessible to all the women residing in the largest village, comprising 48 neighbourhoods, known after names of tribes.

Quoting elderly women, Shan said they frequently visited the market and could not understand whether the sea has become empty or it was short fish, which increased prices, because, they recall the blissful days of the past when they had a variety of seafood products easily available at their abodes, mostly free of cost.

Shafi Bengali, selling vegetables at his shop said all the people after buying fish come to buy onion, garlic, chilli, tomato, coriander etc, which were essential for improving the taste of cooked food.