The current lockdown in Kerala’s coastal areas due to rising Covid cases has had its toll on seafood shipments and exporters say that “movement has virtually come to a standstill” following the suspension of operations in processing units.

“We have no clue on how to cope with the situation as we are totally stuck”, Alex K Ninan, president of the Seafood Exporters Association of India-Kerala region told BusinessLine . The emerging situation assumes greater significance when there is rising demand from overseas markets, especially in the July-August period, he said.

US demand is strong and Japan’s is picking up. However, the shortage of raw materials is posing hurdles. The closing down of fishing harbours in landing centres, non-functioning of shrimp peeling sheds in the coastal belt of Alapuzha, have all badly affected the sector.

Shrimp prices ruling firm

Since the monsoon period has been considered as the period of Chakara (a rare marine phenomenon in which large numbers of fish throng an area), it is time for abundant fish availability. Though it is the peak season for varieties such as Poovlan shrimps, sardines, mackerel, anchovies, etc, he said the sector could not tap the full potential due to the ban on fishing along the coast.

The sector is now facing zero production that would likely hit the country’s export figures in the current year. The monsoon trawling ban ends by July 31, but the sector is unlikely to catch up with the resumption of fishing activities, he added.

Meanwhile, the aquaculture data for May prepared by Equirus Securities showed that US shrimp imports in May declined 29 per cent in volume and 28 per cent in value. Imports from India were down 58 per cent and 56 per cent respectively, while the market share tanked to 23 per cent. Indian shrimp export data paints a similar picture, exports declined 31 per cent in value terms in April. These weak data points are clearly due to Covid-related lockdown.

However, the report suggests the shrimp prices continue to be firm and demand is picking up and the India-China standoff needs to be monitored closely as any ban on Indian shrimps may have a ripple effect on global demand-supply dynamics. As the calls to boycott Chinese goods in India continue to rise, in the same way, Indian shipments are also facing unnecessary delays at Chinese ports, the report adds.

Joseph Xavier Kalapurackal, general secretary of All Kerala Mechanised Boat Owners Association, said they are not venturing into the sea after the trawling ban, given the precarious Covid situation in coastal areas. There is no point in going to the sea in the absence of buyers for the catch due to the closing down of fishing harbours. “We are evaluating the situation. But all preparations have been made by bringing back the labour force from Tamil Nadu”, he added.

Right now, the traditional fishing sector is benefiting from the catch, especially small prawns, because of the upwelling in the seas. But this sector is also facing difficulties in selling the catch due to lockdown, he said.