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Decline in Indian mackerel catch causing export losses

Decline in Indian mackerel catch causing export losses

KARACHI: Overfishing is causing a fast decline in the catch of Indian mackerel, locally known as Baangra, which has emerged as a major commercial fish species along the country’s coast in recent years, it emerged on Wednesday.

The fishing season of Indian mackerel began this month. Data shows that the total landing of Indian mackerel (Rastrelliger kanagurta) dropped from 38,000 tonnes in 2006 to 24,031T last year.

“The economic gains that we had managed to achieve over the past decade or so due to the good quality Indian mackerel catch are being lost. It’s mainly due to overfishing,” said Mohammad Moazzam Khan, former director general of the marine fisheries department now working as the technical adviser on fisheries to the World Wide Fund for Nature-Pakistan.




The government, he pointed out, had persistently failed to regulate fishing. “The overall situation in the fisheries is bad; the number of trash fish has increased with a drastic drop in commercial catch. There is an immediate need that fishermen adopt sustainable practices,” Mr Khan said.

Most of the 30 plants set up between 2008 and 2010 specifically to process mackerel along Balochistan coast had closed down, he added.

Seconding his opinion, former chairman of the Pakistan Seafood Industries association Tariq Ikram said that overfishing of mackerel was also having a huge impact on its exports as its export quantity had declined by up to 40 per cent, causing about 30pc loss in foreign exchange over the last two years.

Climate change brings in fish

Conversations with experts show that though Indian mackerel has been known in Pakistan for long, its landing before 2002 had been insignificant and was not reflected in the official fisheries statistics.

There was, however, a dramatic increase in its catch in the following years from 5,000T in 2000 to 30,000T in 2005.

Subsequently, there was a boost in fish exports and it contribution to the exports reached up to 50pc between 2003 and 2007. Now, however, only 17pc of the total fish exports (about 140,630T) comprised mackerel.

Experts believe that climate change had helped increase its numbers in the Arabian Sea. An inhabitant of shallow water, the fish is widely distributed in the Indo-West Pacific.

According to Mr Khan, earlier it was believed that the disappearance of predatory fish such as shark and tuna due to food imbalance in the sea had led to an increase of mackerel but later the theory was rejected. Now, climate change factors are thought to be behind its increase in population in the Arabian Sea.

Explaining the point, he said some responses of the fish to climate change included extension in the distributional boundary, physical changes and extension in the depth of occurrence.

“All these three are found in the case of Indian mackerel. It is now found in greater depths and its distributional limits have also extended. Similar patterns prevail in neighbouring countries with which we share our waters,” he said.

Arguing further, he said there could be two possibilities for the bigger presence of the mackerel; warming of the surface waters or the increase in the temperature at the bottom of the sea.

“It was not an important commercial species prior to 1999 but became the most important from 2003 to 2009. The decline in its landing after 2009 is because of extremely high overfishing,” he said, adding that the species was now commercially harvested in Iran, where it wasn’t previously known as a commercial species.

Sharing similar views, Tariq Ikram said that it seemed some climatic factors had created favourable conditions for the fish to increase their number.

“During the 1990s, it was only consumed locally as it was caught in small numbers. I managed to send Pakistan’s first export container of mackerel weighing about 20T in 1999-2000 on an experimental basis. The earning hardly helped me recover its production cost,” he said.

The fish size, he pointed out, was initially small but gradually it increased with the rise in its landing, and exporters started getting a good price, from 70 cents to over $2 a kilo.

“The catch increased so much so that we started sending a container monthly and then three to four containers a month. That was in 2011-2012. The exports were destined for Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippine,” he said.

He also linked mackerel’s increase to reduction in the number of tuna as the former was used as bait for the latter. “These are all our observations. There is a need for a research to study the changes in marine life scientifically,” he said.

Published in Dawn, September 17th, 2015

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