India’s seafood exports in the current fiscal are unlikely to surpass last fiscal’s $6.67-billion-mark, thanks to a subdued overseas demand following the impact of second outbreak of the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19).

The emerging situation has forced many exporters to hold their stock as the pandemic restrictions in the European Union (EU) has affected their business badly. This coupled with reefer container shortage and unavailability of sufficient mainline vessels from transhipment ports have hit delivery schedules, Alex K Ninan, President, Seafood Exporters Association of India – Kerala Region told BusinessLine .

Exporters say that they are facing disruptions in shipping schedules, besides a muted demand in the US due to cold wave conditions. Many individual seafood processing firms are unable to meet their targets. The raw material shortage due to dwindling catches from the seas and reduced operation by fishing boats due to spiralling fuel costs, have added to their problems.

Marine Products Exports Development Authority (MPEDA) data reveal that the seafood exports in 2019-20 were 12,89,651 tonnes valued at ₹46,662 crore. Given the consistent drop in marine product exports after topping $7-billion-mark in 2017-18, the government agency has not fixed any business target in the last two years. Official sources attributed the reasons for not fixing the target to decline in shrimp value during 2017-19 and a drop in exports to EU in 2018-19 following an increase in the testing samples limit from India to 50 per cent.

Declining trend

The declining trend in seafood shipments was evident in 2020 and during the period between April-October, the quantity recorded was 5,95,169 tonnes against 7,84,002 tonnes (-24 per cent) in 2019. In terms of value, it was ₹24,042 crore vis-à-vis ₹28,628 crore in the previous year (-16 per cent).

Shaji Baby John, Managing Director, Kings Group of Companies, said the delay in shipping schedules is affecting timely delivery to overseas buyers. From a 14-day transit period, the time gap has now widened to 45-60 days and this has prompted buyers to delay the payments. Besides, the surge in shipping freight rates has also added to the woes of shippers, he said.

However, he said that exporters were pinning their hopes on the revival of enquiries from Chinese markets after the long New Year holidays. The rise in Vannamei shrimp prices by about 10-15 per cent grade wise would be a boost to aquaculture farmers particularly because of global shortage.

D Ramraj, President, All India Shrimp Hatcheries Association pointed out that the seed stocking has been slow as morale of the farmers has been affected due to financial loss caused by diseases. Shrimp prices have increased due to shortage of materials to harvest. However, late stocking is good, as it can avoid white spot disease to a large extent. “We can be positive and expect a good summer crop”, he added.