“Post-harvest losses [in the fisheries sector] are more than 80 percent”, claimed Moazzam Khan, former Director General Marine Fisheries Pakistan WWF, at a seminar on fisheries recently held in Karachi by the Employers’ Federation of Pakistan.
To put things in perspective, fisheries sector contributes 0.39 percent to Pakistan’s GDP and 2.10 percent to total agriculture sector output. Looking at regional economies, the fisheries sector of Bangladesh contributes close to 4 percent to its GDP while that of India contributes 1 percent to GDP and 5 percent to its overall agriculture sector.
The fisheries sector in Pakistan, as is the case with a lot of other sectors, is marred by several problems. Understanding that fish is one of the most perishable items, it is astounding how fish is sold the whole day in the markets across cities, without proper storage in place, rendering them unfit for human consumption. Yet the practice exists. Take for instance the fact that as per best international practices, fish can be stored at 20 degrees without ice for only 10 minutes; if it is kept without ice for any longer, it must not be consumed. However, in Pakistan, fishmongers spray water all day and continue to sell them.
According to Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Pakistan’s per capita fish consumption is recorded at 1.9 kilogram per year, the lowest in the world. According to Household Integrated Economic Survey (HIES) 2015-16, the per capita consumption for chicken meat is 4.44 kilogram per year while for beef it is 2.4 kilograms per year. Moazzam Khan believes that the reason behind a small share of fish and fish products in Pakistani diets is the mindset of the masses (largely influenced by the myths passed on by the older generations), that fish must not be consumed during hot summer months. This, in effect means that fish is not consumed for around seven months of the year.
Other factors such as lack of finance available or directed towards the development of this sector, a disconnect between what is in demand and what is bred, and not to forget the immense pollution that has depleted the marine life, have also hindered the takeoff of this small but important segment of the economy. Aijaz Mahesar, Secretary Livestock and Fisheries department, Sindh revealed in an interview with BR Research that 80 to 90 percent of the marine life along the Sindh coastline has been depleted as a result of over-fishing and pollution. (See Brief Recording section, Feb 3, 2020)
Given that Pakistan boasts a 990km long coastline shared between the coastal provinces of Sindh and Balochistan, the potential of foreign exchange earnings from this sector is undeniable. However, substantive efforts are required in the fields of research, the private sector involvement, and in exploring and materialising the option of aquaculture to breed and rear in-demand species in controlled environments.