China standoff harms India’s fishing sector

COVID-19 Economy National

Exports dip 90%; fishermen, staff, traders in trouble

The India- China standoff  has affected the export of seafood from India to China. The resultant losses incurred by the fishing industry have resulted in unemployment and a financial crisis in the fishing industry.

Denish Fofandi, owner of Deepmala Marine Exports, Veraval, informed The Observer: “Exports from Gujarat to China have declined by 90% as China is stopping containers in the middle terminal. Even though WHO has declared there are no chances of the presence of coronavirus in fish, Chinese authorities still conduct tests, leading to a delay in payment process.”

Line fishing affects the industry. Around 100 boats lined altogether with deep nets catch fish as well as algae. In the absence of algae and similar organisms necessary for the survival of fish, there is a scarcity of fish,” he added.

Usmangani Sherasiya, secretary of the National Fisherworkers’ Forum, said local Paghadiya fishermen, who fish in shallow water with small boats, have no regular income.

“Also, with no special transportation facility available for fisheries, suspension of passenger trains and closure of state borders, fisheries stocks with middlemen and fishermen remained unsold. This has led to a decline in the prices of several fish.” The price of Bombay duck is down to Rs 3,000 per 20 kg from Rs 4,200.

Governments have taken no action despite several complaints.

Lalmani Kashyap, general secretary, Akhil Bhartiya Kashyap Nishad Aadivanshi Mahasangh, an intermediary between fishermen and the government, said the local fishermen residing on the plains in the northern part of India faced financial hardship and suffered from eye diseases and Legionnaires’ (a serious lung infection). “A draft policy, signed by the ministry of agriculture citing health issues faced by fishermen was filed before ministries of fisheries to highlight these issues. But no steps taken by the government to improve this situation,” he added.

Prakash Bhutti, a boat owner from Veraval, said: “Due to the Covid-19 lockdown, fishing trawlers arrived two months earlier on the shore. Apart from the expense of Rs 3 lakh incurred in boat fishing, we had to bear the cost of food, shelter and other expenses of our stranded migrant workers for one month. Even though fish was included in essential commodities by the government, due to trade and transportation restrictions, traders and firms stopped buying from us, and this led to heavy losses.”

Also read | Gujarat: Disruptions in labour and trading – fishing industry comes to a halt

Fishermen experience difficulties due to extended quarantine period by the Chinese authorities. 

Sarfaraz Mugal, a seafood wholesaler at Veraval, said: “Our containers have not been unloaded for the past 40 days. Delays in unloading the fish containers on the port lead to delays in payments which has caused fish prices to decline by 25%.”

On the western coast, the fish prices have declined due to export issues, whereas on the southern coast, prices have risen as a result of the fall in supply. 

Ravikumar Balakrishna, exporter, Baraka Overseas at Mangaluru, said: “Fish catchers have suddenly declined due to Covid restrictions and unemployment. Due to a decline in the supply of fisheries, the prices of raw materials, as well as exports, have risen by around 20%. Exports have declined from around Rs 100 crore to Rs 25 crore.” 

Around 3.5 lakh families depend on this industry. Losses have forced owners to lay off their employees.

Naru Jam, manufacturer and exporter, Ram Shyam Export, Porbandar, said: “In the absence of subsidy and financial support by government, we are forced to reduce our costs. As a result, from a total of 340 employees, I have laid off 328 employees.”

Jegan E., production manager at Sagar Grandhi Exports, Chennai, said: “We have laid off around 50% staff to manage the costs. But, due to insufficient employees, operational issues were faced in production department.”

Earlier, the payment policies of China were less time-consuming as compared to Europe.  But now Europe contributes towards the major portion of the earnings. 

Nagin Bhutti, a consumer at Veraval, said: “Before Covid-19, we used to receive payment from European buyers after three months of unloading the fish containers. Whereas, Chinese buyers used to make payment as soon as the containers were loaded.  Hence, 70% of our income was dependent on the seafood exported to China.”

As a result of shrink in demand and reduced incomes, traders are buying in lesser quantities from the boat fishermen.

Because of inadequate government intervention a decline in exports, and a rise in diesel prices, the fishing industry has been badly affected.   

Also read | Why are Goans complaining about their fish?

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