EU Bans Fish from Pakistan: Good or Bad?

Posted on April 11, 2007
Filed Under >Rafiq, A.R., Economy & Development, Environment, Foreign Relations
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Guest Post by A.R. Rafiq

A couple of weeks ago the European Union announced a ban on all fish imports from Pakistan – worth more than US$ 80 million annually – because of poor quality products. According to the newsreport in The News:

The government has finally received a verdict from the European Union, which informed Pakistani fishery authorities about de-listing of all the processing factories on quality grounds, effectively putting a ban on more than $80 million worth of exports. The fisheries sources confirmed the initial letter of the EU, which asked Pakistani authorities to stop consignments from the country to the 27-nation bloc, as they would not be accepted after April 12… An official at the federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock (MINFAL) said [that]… all the 11 seafood-processing units had been de-listed, which were earlier certified by the EU.

A three-member team of the EU’s FVO visited Karachi fish harbour in January 2007 to check fisheries’ facilities and quality of seafood being exported to its member countries. This trip was the second in two years after 2005. In February 2005, the EU team wrapped up its visit on warnings that Pakistani authorities should maintain seafood quality as per the set standards otherwise they would lose their largest seafood export market. But it appears nothing has changed in the time between, as irresponsible attitude and least interest of the institutions concerned made the country to pay the price second time in two years.

“The EU is the largest single market of the Pakistani,â€Â? said Sardar Hanif Khan, Chairman of Pakistan Seafood Industry Association (PSIA). “It would definitely hit almost half of the exports from the country and ultimately affect target negatively by the end of current financial year.â€Â? The EU decision sent ripples right from export bodies to the government institutions but poor fishermen appear to be main loser of the situation. “It is really very critical situation I believe,â€Â? said Ahmed Zameer Advocate, Director Vigilance at Fishermen Co-operative Society – a Sindh-represented body, which looks after fisheries operations. He said the federal government was responsible to maintain quality standards required by the EU. The federal institution failure would cause serious set back to the exchequer and endanger employment of hundreds of fishermen.

The State Bank of Pakistan in its report had informed that seafood exports were at $160 million by June 2006 up from $138.94 million exported during 2004-05, as the EU countries remained the largest buyers of the Pakistani products with more than 50 per cent share in total shipments.

I am of mixed feelings on this issue. The loss of the EU seafood market is a major blow to Pakistan’s economy. However, from an environmental and social prospective this can be seen as an opportunity. An opportunity to re-examine the fisheries and seafood export policies and slow down the industry – thus allowing the local marine wildlife an opportunity to play catchup.

Fish exports from PakistanAs a result of indiscriminate fishing and trawling and a lack of government regulations the fish population along the coastline has been severely depleted. Thus, harming the marine wildlife and natural ecosystem. That is an ecosystems which local fishermen have been part of for centuries.

Some 20 years back there was an abundance of fish along the Karachi coastline. I have on numerous occasions been witness to boats arriving at the French Beach (Bulehjo) laden with large amounts of fish, in all shapes and sizes. You had “surmai” that that was longer than your arms length. All this was caught along the Makran Coastline (From Karachi to Gadiyani).

Other than large Surmai fish, you had unimaginable schools of parrot fish and groupers. Grouper is a rock fish once found in abundance right on the shore – now you talk to fishermen and local scuba divers they say the coastline is like a barren waste land. The the marine life is virtually non existent.

This devastation is primarily due to foreign trawlers that come into Pakistani waters and literally scrape the sea floor, lifting up everything that comes in the way of their gigantic industry grade nets.

As a result an ancient way of life, where man and nature once lived in harmony is fast disappearing. No thanks to the local, provincial and federal authorities.

AR (Abdulrahman) Rafiq is a technology professional in Silicon Valley and maintains multiple blogs including The Rabita Zone.

30 responses to “EU Bans Fish from Pakistan: Good or Bad?”

  1. Abraz says:

    The number of poor fishermen who are going to be effected by this is very large. Does govt have any plans to assist them?

  2. Qanetah Hashmi says:

    aptly expressed and identified, Mr Mazhar Butt. for those who are interested in reading the report i mentioned above, i am pasting a link here.


  3. mazhar butt says:

    The only way to save the fishing industry of Pakistan is to form a separate Ministry for Fisheries. Currently, fisheries is a secondary part of the Ministry of Agriculture, food and almost neglected as a ‘vestigial’ organ. formation of a separate ministry for fisheries will not only ensure a whole-hearted attention to this important foreign exchange earning industry of Pakistan but will also end the disparity and disharmony found between its federal and provincial care takers who are wont to shift blame for their failures on one another. Secondly, All brands exported from Pakistan to EU or anywhere else in the world be registered with the government and only these should be allowed to exported after pre-inspection of quality by the authorites at all stages of its production.
    Thirdly, the number of seafood processing units approved by the EU may be eleven but in reality scores of cowboy exporters are sheltered in these units and using them for producing their products on ”rental” or ”contractual” basis through either the owners of these EU approved units or the middlemen who care least for maintaining the quality of their products during processing as well as during freezing and cold storaging. This practice should be stoppped atonce. Fourthly, most of the fishery units are obsolete with very old machinery and rotten cold store insulation, The equipment used for essential fast freezing to preserve export products and to extend their shelf life are in poor shape and their function is non- uniform and sub standard. Ostensible, they may appear pretty being cleverly clad in stainless steel skin but infact they are bad in performance. Consequently, even the good product badly frozen by them turns bad.Fifthly, registration of new fishing vessels be banned for atleast next 10 years to save the remaining little marine resources in our territorial waters as well as to avoid congestion at harbor and ensure neatness, hygenic and better sanitary conditions on board as well as off board fishing vessels.

    All existing fisheries departments should be abandoned and a single authority each for marine and inland fisheries be brought into effect. There is no need for the Fishermen’s Co-operative Society as it has always been a ”political” forum and has been adding to miseries of the fishermen since its incorporation through corrupt and nepotistical practices.

    more later,,,,,,,,,,,,

  4. Qanetah Hashmi says:

    Hi, i am a Pakistani, an alumna of IBA, Karachi. in the year 1999, we made a project report for one of our courses. it was about the problems and prospects of the fish industry of Pakistan. and all that is happening now was predicted and preventive measures outlined. what suprises me is the fact that what we could see as students then, could not be; or would not be seen by the responsible authorities. guess its time we wake up as a nation and learn to break free of our bondage of i can attatch the report, which fortunately i still have. but out of respect for the instructions given,the webmaster is requested to place it on a server and provide a link if it is worth it now. i just felt like sharing it. as a Pakistani, i feel a great sense of loss for our country.
    regards, Qanetah

  5. BitterTruth says:

    Few months back, EU banned Pakistani rice on quality ground after testing samples. The comments of secretary of rice export association was the ban is unjust, they got the sample from ordinary (Pakistani) markets. You can understand the attitude of exporters towards own people and Pakistan. Note the association consists of private companies. Another example is when one buy foods from any country, one expect to see country’s language. But purchase any Shan product you will find 4-5 languages but not Urdu, so thats how we treat ourselves, no wonder why we are humiliated by EU every now and then.

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