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Fish farming needs a shot in the arm

Fish farming needs a shot in the arm

Inland fish farming that progressed well between FY07 and FY12 has since been on the decline owing to the lack of needed investment.

In FY07, the then federal government in collaboration with provincial governments had provided an incentive package for fish farmers. Entrepreneurs keen on establishing fish hatcheries were offered concessional loans and free advisory services by provincial authorities, owners of fish farms recall.

In Punjab alone over 30,000 acres of marginal farmland was brought under fish farming. In Sindh, too, a number of fish farms were set up on thousands of acres of farmland. “The golden era didn’t last long and after devolution of agriculture and fishing to provinces in FY10, inland fishing didn’t get much of attention,” laments a fish farmer in Sindh.

Fish farmers say the number of fish species bred in hatcheries has fallen from 25-30 some years ago to about 15-20 now due to lack of availability of seed fish at affordable prices

Freshwater fish catch that had jumped from 230,000 tonnes in FY07 to 270,000 tonnes in FY12 went on a gradual decline and finally fell to 145,000 tonnes in FY17.

Though at this level, it is marginally higher at 142,000 tonnes seen in FY16 due to some gains in production of channel catfish, the overall environment for inland fishing is discouraging, owners of fish farms in Sindh and Punjab say.

“Over past few years, output of channel catfish has risen, from 2,000-2,500 fish per hectare to 3000-3500 fish per hectare, as we used new techniques of fish farming,” says Muhammad Ikhlaq who owns a fish farm in district Thatta of Sindh.

He says that more than a dozen fish ponds are created out of one hectare of farmland and 100-200 larvae or juvenile fish are released into them for breeding. Some fish farmers also use rectangular shaped, 4-5ft broad and 20-40ft long open water tanks for inland fish farming.

According to a US-based fish research centre, more than 200 species of freshwater fish are found in Pakistan the majority of which are native but some were introduced in the country through imports.

These include all the species found in the country’s rivers, dams, canals, streams, ponds and fish hatcheries. Fish farmers say the number of fish species bred in hatcheries has fallen from 25-30 some years ago to about 15-20 now due to lack of availability of seed fish at affordable prices.

“Private sector investment that kept flowing into inland fishing in mid 2000s began drying up after 2010. This has almost halted imports of juvenile fish species of good quality and high rate of breeding.

Besides, there are no funds available for setting up new fish farms or revamping or expanding the old ones,” reveals Murshid Ali, a fish farmer who runs a few fish farms in Karachi and district Lasbela of Balochistan.

Different types of Khagga or catfish Palla or Shad/Hilsa, Sol, Mungleeah, Muakhee, Sunhee, Bam or Eel, Bhambhore or Ladyfish, Kukker or Flathead fish, Boi or Mullet, Kerli or Herring wolf, Tarli or Sardine, Seem or Mackerel, Tamperi or Herring Tel, Rohu, Mahasher, Mulla, Catla or Indian Carp and ChoraMachi or Swordfish and Patia/Puttuah or Anchovy are still produced in fish hatcheries.

Punjab fisheries department officials say they continue to supply fish seeds of Rahu, Thaila, Mori, Silver carp, Grass carp, Singharee, Sol, Rainbow Trout, Mahasher and Big head carp to half a dozen hatcheries and more than two dozen fish nurseries in their province. Fish farmers in AJK also rely heavily on supply of these fish seeds from Punjab.

Officials of Sindh Fisheries Department claim that they, too, have also been providing fish seeds of these and some other species to roughly 3,000 fish farms in the province. They claim that about two third of the country’s total inland fish production is obtained from rivers, lakes, canals, and fish ponds but admit that lack of investment in this sector has decelerated the pace of growth of inland fishing.

Local fish farmers say out of the 3,000 fish farms in the province, a few hundred small farms have already been closed due to lack of availability of fish seeds and poor marketing infrastructure.

Fishermen and officials of fisheries department say inland fish species are not only consumed in local markets but are also exported, mainly to China and Sri Lanka.

Overall exports of seafood including both marine and inland fish and fish products are currently on the rise after witnessing declining trend in the last two years. Seafood export earnings rose 17pc in ten months of FY17 to $317m from $271m in the same period of FY16.

No exclusive data is available on the share of inland fish and fish products in exports. But officials’ and fishermen’s guesstimates put it somewhere between 15-20pc. “Now, we’ve the facility of frozen fish exports to China via land route and late last month two tonnes of freshly hauled fish from Balochistan were flown to Xinjiang by air. So, exports are going to become faster and easier.

At this time any move to boost freshwater fish species would definitely help keep up the growth momentum in our overall seafood exports,” says a senior official of Sindh Fisheries Department.

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, June 26th, 2017

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