Booming fish trade does not benefit smaller fisherfolk
The world fish trade is booming, but benefits are not reaching the small-scale fishers, says the United Nations in a report the Bharatiya Janata Party may find useful as it attempts a good catch in the electoral waters of Tamil Nadu, where the party last week started a "NaMo" fish stall campaign to connect with the people.
In Tamil Nadu, the fishing community constitutes a significant votebank. A positive vote by it can swing, it is said, the electoral outcome in six Lok Sabha constituencies.
The BJP, which failed to win a single seat in the 2009 parliament elections, started a "NaMo" fish stall campaign to woo people in all the coastal districts of Chennai, Kanyakumari, Nagapattinam, Nagercoil and Rameswaram.
"We will launch the mobile fish stalls across Tamil Nadu. We are selling fish on a lower rate compared to the market rate," said BJP national executive member Ila Ganesan, inaugurating a "NaMo" mobile fish stall in Chennai last Tuesday.
The party has been trying hard to connect with the fisherfolk in other ways also. In Rameswaram, Sushma Swaraj recently met families of fishermen arrested by the Sri Lankan Navy. In public meetings in Trichy and Vandalur, prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi has raised the issue.
BJP State General Secretary Vanathi Srinivasan claims when the BJP headed by Modi assumes power at the Centre, a separate ministry would be set up for the welfare of fishermen and all the issues affecting them would be addressed appropriately.
Should this happen, it would be extremely appropriate as the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) says the international fish trade is logging new records, but small-scale fishers and fish farmers who constitute about 90 per cent of the sector's global workforce - half of whom are women - don't benefit from this, especially at a time when demand in emerging economies is growing.
Developing countries play a major role in supplying to world markets. Last year they accounted for 61 percent of all fish exports by quantity and 54 percent by value. Their net export revenues were USD 35.3 billion, higher than those for all agri-products combined, including rice, meat, milk, sugar and bananas.
In India, small-scale fishery receives less attention in development planning. As a result, a majority of small-scale fisherfolk remain poor. They are vulnerable due to climate change and the impact of globalisation.
The Rome-based FAO is asking governments to provide small-scale fishers, who often employ women, with access to finance, insurance and market information, invest in infrastructure, strengthen small-scale producer and trader organizations, and ensure that national policies do not overlook or weaken the small-scale sector.
Preliminary data published by the FAO Sub-Committee on Fish Trade shows that global fishery production is expected to set a new record in 2013 at 160 million tonnes, up from 157 million tonnes in 2012, while exports will reach USD 136 billion.
"This makes the fisheries sector one of the most globalised and dynamic industries in world food production. The record trade figures reflect the strong growth in aquaculture output and the high prices for a number of species such as salmon and shrimp," says Audun Lem, head of FAO's products, trade and marketing branch.
The growing demand is stimulating new investments in local aquaculture production, including in Africa, and the report says more by-products, such as heads, viscera and backbones can potentially be turned into valuable products for human consumption, as greater quantities of fish are processed for export.
"By-products often have a higher nutritional value than fillets, particularly in terms of essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals, and can constitute an excellent means of combating micronutrient deficiencies in developing countries," says Lem.
New markets for by-products are already opening up, he says, noting growing demand for fish heads in some Asian and African markets. There is also potential to use fish heads and bones to meet the rising global demand for fish oil and mineral supplements.
Greater potential also exists to use by-products to make the fishmeal and fish oil used as feed in aquaculture and for livestock, indirectly contributing to food security, according to FAO.
Fish and fisheries products constitute one of the most traded food commodities in the world, reports the FAO. This has important implications for those in developing countries, as much of what is consumed in the major developed markets is produced and processed there before being exported.
(Saroj Mohanty can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
(Posted on 05-03-2014)