The seafood industry has fared well in 2019-2020. India shipped 12,89,651 MT of seafood worth Rs 46, 662.85 crore during the same period, largely cushioning the adverse impact of the Covid 19 pandemic, according to a press statement released by MPEDA. It gives an impression all is well.
During the financial year 2019-20, one quarter i.e. December 2019 to March 2020 was hit by the Covid 19. The pandemic effect was limited to China. The impact of the pandemic was vividly seen post-March 2020 in India and across the world.
It could be too early to draw a conclusion that the Coronavirus has not largely impacted the seafood sector.
During my interaction with several stakeholders, there was unprecedented problem in seed and feed transportation during the early period of lockdown. There was low stocking (shrimp) across India. There were reports of panic harvestand distress sale of shrimps. Not only that, feed and medicine supply to farmers were seriously affected for nearly two months during the early period of nationwide shutdown. On an average, 30-40% shortfall in stocking was reported from March to June 2020.
However, the situation has improved with unlocking business activities. Though shrimp stocking has gained momentum, yet uncertainty prevails. So far export is concerned, restaurants and eateries in USA, EU and other countries which consume about 60% of seafood products have not opened fully yet.
Moreover, the government’s target for increasing the export to the tune of Rs 1 lakh crore something needs to be pondered over. Frozen shrimp is the most significant item in the basket of seafood exports accounting for a share of 50.58 per cent in quantity and 73.21 per cent of the total dollar earnings. Thus, to increase export, introduction of new species is the need of the hour.
Unavailability of seeds is one of the bottlenecks in the adoption and propagation of new commercial species.
However, only focus on export will not boost the fisheries sector in the country. With fall in catch quantity, aquaculture has gained prominence accounting for nearly 60% fish production in the country. Further policy support, as envisioned by the government to achieve the 22 MT production by 2024, will certainty increase the productivity as well as production in the country requiring a robust market chain.
There is an urgent need for increasing the domestic consumption of fish products to ensure better price to the farmers. The per capita fish consumption (about 7kg) needs to be doubled at least in next four-five years to envision a sustainable growth of the fisheries sector in India.