November 29, 2011
Pakistan's opportunity to export fish in the EU markets has been declined again by the EU authorities.
This is of some significance because the fishing sector is a source of livelihood for millions of landless people along the coastal areas and fisheries play an important role in the country`s economy. Pakistan`s coastline, which stretches over 990 kilometres from Gwadar bay to Sir Creek, provides a fishing zone of 240,000 square kilometres. Meanwhile, inland fisheries represent great potential, especially in water-logged zones spread over 50 million hectares and in streams.
During the year ending June 2010, Pakistan exported seafood products worth US$300 million to mainly China and other far eastern countries. Had access to the EU market been available, the figure is likely to have touched US$400 million. Concerned about any potential health risk to their consumers, EU authorities started focusing on the conditions of hygiene prevalent at harbours of the countries from where they import fish.
During a visit to the Karachi fish harbour in 1997, inspectors of the EU`s Food and Veterinary Organisation (FVO) observed poor hygiene conditions. To avoid restrictions, Pakistan put in place a self-imposed ban which was lifted after improvements were made. An EU inspection team wrapped up its second visit to the harbour in 2005 on the note that Pakistan must maintain seafood quality to avoid a ban. Since conditions remained poor, in 2007 the EU de-listed fish-processing units which were exporting fish to EU markets. Since then, having the ban lifted has remained a challenge. The conditions set by EU authorities are not too complicated: they ask that the handling of fish, from catching to packing and transportation, is under hygienic conditions, and that freshness and a traceability record be maintained. For this, it is essential to replace wooden fish-holds with fibreglass ones in which fish can be properly stacked on germ-free ice. At the jetty, auction halls and peeling and processing platforms, quality plastic material and equipment needs to be used and, where necessary, unpolluted surroundings must be ensured mechanically.
In order to bring our fish harbour up to international standards, the federal and Sindh governments have since 2005 allocated over PKR900 million (US$10.2 million) to the KFHA through the livestock and fisheries department. These funds were meant to be used for the rehabilitation and renovation of auction halls, boat modification, the procurement of material and machinery for handling the catch, flake-ice plants, waste-removal equipment and hiring security guards and janitors - even though there are dozens of idle (surplus) employees in both the KFHA and FCS. Day-to-day management of the harbour is the responsibility of the FCS, overseen by the KFHA which is controlled by the minister of the Sindh fisheries department as its chairman. "Although three months have passed [since the rains], the water standing on the roads has not yet been pumped out," complained Faisal Iftikhar, the chairman of the Pakistan Fisheries Exporters Association (PEFA). "The less said about the conditions at the jetty, the better." The EU`s observations can be summarised in two words: fresh and hygienic seafood. A senior FCS employee says that ensuring this "is not difficult if one-fourth of the KFH`s recorded monthly earning of over PKR2 million (US$22,721) is diverted for the proper maintenance of the harbour". But "the fish harbour has been hijacked by the mafia comprising purchasers, auctioneers, union leaders and even some of the processors, patronised by the KFHA and FCS authorities", confessed one of the directors of the FCS board.