Availability of the sea-caught fish could be hit in the coming weeks but it will only have an impact in the short term.

R. Balaji

Chennai, Jan. 4

SEAFOOD exporters do not expect trade to be affected drastically by the tsunami that has hit the coast.

While there is bound to be a dip in sea catches in the coming weeks, this is not expected to have a long-term impact on trade. For instance, nearly 65 per cent of India's seafood exports of over Rs 6,000 crore are in the form of shrimps and prawns. Availability of these is not likely to be affected as these are reared in farms that have been spared the destruction of the tidal wave.

Between Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu is worse off. The fishery industry has not been as hard hit in Andhra Pradesh. Fishermen in Visakhapatnam have started operations and more will be getting back to work in the coming days. Fishing has also begun in Tuticorin, Tamil Nadu, and will pick up in the coming days, say the exporters.

Frozen fish accounts for about 10 per cent of the value of exports. While the availability of the sea-caught fish could be hit in the coming weeks, it will only have an impact in the short term. The exporters are not willing to hazard a guess on the drop in sea catches.

Most affected would be the low-end items, in value terms, such as squids and cuttlefish from Kanyakumari district. But the exporters are keeping their fingers crossed.

For instance, they point out that the fishing boats have been totally wiped out in specific pockets of Tamil Nadu, such as Cuddalore, Nagapattinam and parts of Kanyakumari district. In other areas the damage is lesser. They say that fishermen started going to sea on Tuesday, and most seaworthy boats will start operations by the weekend. In the coming days the boats that have been slightly damaged would also be fixed.

However, an official estimate of the damage and the trend of market arrivals will be needed before anybody can comment on the drop in sea catches, they said.

Sources said shrimp farms, which are yet to start culture operations for the current season, have largely not been affected. Similarly, shrimp hatcheries, which are concentrated along the coastline, are just starting the shrimp seed production cycle. Most of the units are in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, between Chennai and Marakkanam in Pondicherry, and have escaped being hit by the wave.

One concern is that the brood stock, the mother shrimps that are the source of shrimp eggs for the seeds, should be available. These have to be caught from the sea by the fishermen in traditional crafts. With farms expected to demand shrimp seeds from end-January or mid-February, the hatcheries are confident of getting ready to supply their requirements.

According to a hatchery industry representative, the hatcheries' capacity of about 14 billion shrimp seeds is intact against a projected demand of about 8 billion to 10 billion seeds.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated January 5, 2005)
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