India is the biggest producer of farmed shrimps and accounts for nearly 6% of the global fish production. In an interview with FE’s Rajesh Ravi, KS Srinivas, chairman of the Marine Products Export Development Authority (MPEDA), says seafood exports have bounced back and looks robust. He talks about the impact of the Covid-19 on the seafood sector and its outlook. Excerpts:
How is India’s seafood exports doing this fiscal? Has it come out from the pandemic-induced constraints?
We have come out of the Covid-19 situation and are doing better than 2019-20. The international market has opened up. The last fiscal was bad for seafood exports. During the first half of 2019-20, exports stood at $3.4 billion and they dropped to $2.7 billion in 2020-21. For H1 of 2021-22, it now stands at $3.7 billion. There is a growth of 37% in value terms and 23 % in volume terms year-on-year. The target fixed for the fiscal is $7.8 billion and we have achieved almost 60%.
If not for the huge increase in freight charges our exports would have reported an increase of 40-45% for H1. Despite all the constraints of the pandemic, we also achieved an increase in the unit price of exported seafood to $6.17 per kilogram from $5.63 reported earlier.
There are reports that exports to China have to go through stringent checking and there are other kinds of barriers?
China’s market is a big concern as they are taking extra precautions due to Covid. There is multi-level checking and clearance is delayed. China is looking for Covid-19 nucleic acid even in the outer packaging materials and has now suspended 51 Indian units indefinitely. Interestingly, despite all problems, we have exported $700 million worth of seafood products till October (April-October 2021) and have achieved 68% of the yearly target of $1 billion.
Has aqua culture production declined? There are reports that aquaculture farmers’ reduced seeding in farms due to the lockdown?
The production, which includes black tiger (monodon), is around 8.5 lakh tonnes and it is increasing. Lately, there is more demand for monodon. There is also some concern that vannamei farming is getting costly and we should focus on our black tiger. Area increase is happen- ing, but not at the pace we would like it to be. The area under aquaculture farming is around 1.6 lakh hectares. We need to increase the area as the future is in aquaculture.
Are you concerned about fish landings on the Indian coast?
Increasing cyclone activities on the Indian coast is worry- ing. During the first half of the year, the total fish landing in India is 2,18,600 tonnes, com- pared to 1,85,000 tonnes in the same period of last fiscal. But again, there are variations and concerns in the pattern of landing. Except for Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh, all other states are reporting a decline in fish landing. Kerala and Karnataka are reporting a huge decline in landing.
Freight charges have increased and the availability of containers is said to be on the lower side?
It is a global phenomenon. There is a severe shortage of containers and freight charges have gone up substantially. For example, if an exporter had to export from India to US same time last year, he had to pay around $4000-$8000 per container. Now he has to pay around $14,000-22,000 for a container. The profits are under pressure for exporters.
As part of the Golden Jubilee year of MPEDA, what are the initiatives taken to support the farmers and exporters?
We are expanding the quarantine facility in Chennai to take care of the increased demand for vannamei broodstock. Secondly, we are going to modernize fishing harbours.
The MPEDA has taken the initiative to upgrade and modernize the infrastructure as we feel that hygiene is important and this will fetch us better returns. Harbours need air-conditioned auction halls, drinking water, and own ice plants. Thirdly, we will increase the brood- stock of the black tiger. MPEDA started the domestication of tiger shrimps in Andaman in 2014 and we will soon start a broodstock multiplication centre.