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Garware Technical Fibers rides wave of demand for ‘salmon cages’

M Ramesh Chennai | Updated on March 24, 2021

Salmon cages play a key role in ‘marine aquaculture’   -  Jaishankar P

Firm’s switch from nylon to HDPE has helped it emerge as global leader

Businessmen generally look for an anchor domestic market on top of which they build an export cream, but here is an Indian company, one of whose products is a global market leader, but has zero domestic sales.

Garware Technical Fibers manufactures a range of products that fall under the head ‘technical textiles’. These include tarpaulins, nets for games like tennis and volleyball, road barricades and fishing nets.

But in one product, it is the global leader: salmon cages. In this, it competes against a handful of European players; the Chinese are not even close.

‘Marine aquaculture’

Salmon cages have a play in ‘marine aquaculture’, where fish are ‘cultivated’ in large cages placed in the seas. The cages mainly protect the fish from predators and make harvest easy but it is also possible to provide nutritious feed to the fish and preventdiseases.

Salmon, a preferred fish in the rich West, lives only in extremely cold waters — only where the temperature is under 4 degrees C. So, you cultivate them off Norway, Iceland, Scotland, Canada and Chile. The cages are very large, a quarter kilometre across and weigh 4 tonnes. Garware Technical Fibers has been exporting them for some years now; the company’s CEO, Shujaul Rehman, says it has a third of the market.

The company became a global leader when it switched from nylon to High Density Poly Ethylene (HDPE) a few years ago. This innovation caught the market because nylon loses strength when in water; HDPE does not, Rehman told BusinessLine.

And now, when European competitors are also getting into HDPE, Garware Technical is moving up a rung up in technology. It has invented a copper-impregnated wire net, which it calls V2. The patented technology’s smart feature is that it intrinsically anti-fouling (anti-clogging) — you avoid the costly and time-consuming process of cleaning. Also, fouling depletes oxygen content, leading to death of fish under culture. While the V2 is relatively more expensive, Rehman expects a good demand for the product because of these advantages.

In the quarter ended December 2020, Garware Technical achieved a turnover of ₹291 crore (compared with ₹244 crore in the corresponding quarter of the previous year) and earned a pre-tax profit of ₹59 crore (₹38 crore). Bulk of the profits (₹54 crore) came from ‘synthetic cordage’ products, which include fishing nets. For the full year 2019-20, the company’s turnover and post-tax profit numbers were ₹1,014 crore and ₹178 crore, respectively. Rehman said the business was not much affected by the pandemic, because after all, people still have to eat food. Still, he expects a slight dip in the current quarter due to the closure of tourism and restaurants in the main market, the US, but a pick-up in the coming quarters.

Cages for all investment

Marine aquaculture (like its land counterpart, the covered, polyhouse-based agriculture) is practically non-existent in India. These cages call for investment, which fisherfolk are unable to afford. The corporate sector, which can invest, is not allowed into fishing.

Rehman suggests that a small portion of the Indian seas could be opened to the private sector.

Published on March 24, 2021

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