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Over exploitation of marine fisheries resource

By Dr Aamer Irshad 2017-02-13
ISHERY is an important component of Pakistan`s agricultural economy. Total fish production is 0.8m tonnes, of which a major part (65pc) comes from marine resource and accountsfor1pc ofthe GDP.

Since coastal tourism has not been developed, fishery has been positioned first in the coastal economy. It is an important source of food as well as livelihood for 1m people in the country`s coastal belt.

About 0.4m people are directly attached to the harvest of fish while almost a similar number works down the line of its value-chain, thus making it 1pc of the labour force.

Pakistan has a wide variety of fish products with 150 species of commercial importance. Most valuable of them are exported ($324m in 201516), while a major part of the total catch is converted into fishmeal for export, as well as for use in the local poultry as feed.

The main export species include shrimp, Indian mackerel, ribbon-fish, tuna, sole and crab. A major part of the exports do not touch the high-end markets because of poor compliance with hygienic standards.

Marine fish catch at the time ofindependence was only 33,000 tonnes, carried out in hand-driven traditional boats and were either sold afresh locally, or dried and exported to certain South East Asian countries.

The current fish catch, however, averages at 500,000 tonnes per year and a majority of vessels are motorised, operated from four fish harbours and nine landing jetties situated in Sindh and Balochistan.

Karachi fish harbour is the biggest of all and handles over 80pc of industrial fishing fleets. Pakistan has developed over-fishing capacity in shallow water whereas the capacity remains poor in the deep-seawhich restrict the country from exploiting the overall potential .

Keeping in view the importance of fisheries sector, the government funded a project worth $5.8m to make a comprehensive assessment of Pakistan`s marine fisheries resources through the Unilateral Trust Fund of the FAO-Pakistan.

The main objective of the project was independent data collection to determine the size of the fishing fleet, amount of fishing effort exerted and catches landed from it.

Through years-long efforts, the FAO concluded a report on the marine resources of Pakistan. The findings of the study were quite alarming. The project observed from the survey trends that there had been a major decrease in the biomass of virtually all the economically valuable stocks dur-ing the past 30 years.

This was likely due to the heavy exploitation of the fisheries resources.

In addition to total biomass, the study also generated some information on the size and composition of the fish stocks.

The economic value of resources is associated with the size as bigger stocks fetch a higher price. The overall size and composition of the catches has reduced to smaller species and smaller individuals of large species. Large species of many groups were not present in abundance.

In many cases, the economically viable species were not completely observed during the various cycles of surveys between 2009-15. Excessive fishing has resulted in ecological changes in the marine resources.

Abundance of opportunistic, fast growing and small species due to absence of larger species and presence of predators of juvenile fish interfere in rebuilding of stocks of commercially viable species. Such a trend indicates a disturbed ecosystem.

Similar trend had also been identified in 1980s. The recent survey shows that the trend has been continuing and becoming worse. Thepresence of all species has declined, in some cases by 90pc or even more.

The overall position for the country`s major fish stocks is below the target biomass levels and nine of the species groups are below the depleted thresholds. Only two species groups out of 14 indicate that fishing mortality is at or below the desirable limit. This situation shows that the the marine fisheries have been fullyor over-exploited.

Pakistan owns a very productive ecosystem with regard to marine fisheries. It is anticipated that this system will remain avital source of fish catch, with or without reduction of fishing.

However, the landing will be of low quality and low value in the absence of economic size of the fish catch of commercial value. This trend may enhance the production of fish meal or trash but will lead to lower exports, reduced value and low food-fish production.

The study recommended a longterm reduction of 50pc in fishing efforts from the current level. It will not only benefit the catch weight but also increase the catch-value on a sustainable basis. This is not an easy task in case of over-exploitation of fisheries.

An immediate restriction can be imposed for new entrants and a medium term vessel replacement strategy may be adopted to modernise and reduce the fleet to the desirable limit.

The writer is chief, Food and Agriculture, Planning Commission.