Huge no. trawlers from Maharashtra and Gujarat dock as China’s fish exports hit
The pandemic hit Maharashtra trawlers in an unexpected way. New Covid-19 safety rules in China, India’s largest seafood destination, have delayed shipments and lowered fish prices. With stalled payments and rising diesel prices, multi-day trips have become unsustainable for many. More than half of the state’s 4,290-strong trawler fleet has been stranded since January, according to Ramdas Sandhe, chairman of Maharashtra Rajya Macchimar Sahakari Sangh Limited. This is the second bad year in a row for fishermen after the 2019 cyclone, he said.
The state is not alone: most of the trawlers in neighboring Gujarat have been docked for a few months for similar reasons. China accounts for 25% of the volume of India’s total seafood exports, but 50% of the volume of west coast states, including Gujarat, Maharashtra and Karnataka, according to Jagdish Fofandi, national chairman of the Indian Seafood Exporters Association. “The whole issue has boiled down because of the Covid-19,” he said.
Global lockdowns last year resulted in lower export prices at the start of the fishing season in August, he said. Then came China’s new rules to test seafood imports for Covid. The protocol delayed customs clearance at Chinese ports and other transit points, in turn delaying payments to Indian exporters. Normally it takes 25 days from shipment to payment, but the current time is closer to 50 days, Fofandi said.
Some are still waiting for the October dues, “Jagdish Fofandi said. Exporters now have Rs 2,000 crore in cold stores on the west coast, he said, as they wait for the pending duties. In turn, their payments to fishing boat owners have been delayed. “Fishermen have suffered the brunt of this crisis,” he said.
The ripple effect is evident at the New Ferry Wharf in Mumbai. Less than a quarter of the roughly 1,000 registered boats have set sail – an unusually low number even in this traditional lean season, a local observer for the government’s export authority said.
Fish prices have fallen. Export rates for mackerel or bangda had fallen from Rs 400 per kilo last month to less than Rs 200. The price of ribbon fish, which has little domestic demand, has almost halved to Rs 35 per kilo. . Boat owner Piyush Solanki said he was unlikely to make any money after covering the cost of food and the wages of ten people, thousands of gallons of fuel and several tons of ice. With diesel prices now exceeding Rs 80 per liter, he added: “There is no point in sending the boats.”
Trawlers are not the only ones affected by the export problem. The Dolnet boats that catch the high-value fish pomfret have seen their prices drop by 35%. The delay in payments from exporters has hurt some fishermen in Vasai, said boat owner Anand Mastan. Usually the August-December season payments are cleared in early January. But this year, “the accounts are not settled yet,” he said, adding: “This has never happened before.” Some fishermen have turned to lenders to cover the cost of weddings this season, “he said. Experts say crisis highlights the importance of diversifying export markets and cultivating domestic markets. With so much inventory to sell off, exporters are looking to other markets, including Africa, Fofandi said.
The domestic market has helped mitigate the damage to the dolnetters in Vasai. The fall in pomfrette prices was partly offset by the high volume and quality of the catch from August to December, said Mastan, which he attributes to last year’s lockdown allowing the fish to spawn longer. . But sailing fishing boats also catch a lot of small, low-value fish for local consumption. “The local market was good,” Mastan said, “So we were saved.”
(This report was supported by the Earth Journalism Network.)