As the processed food industry in India is habituated to crying hoarse on issues important as well as irrelevant, its loud musings are not given serious consideration in the power corridors. But the recent revelation by the marine food processing sector has serious implications having bearing on fish consumption within the country and exports. In the absence of a long term policy on marine fisheries, frequent ad hoc decisions on many pressing issues of concern to this sector have brought the industry to the sorry pass as we see to day.
"About eighty per cent of India's marine food processing capacity is lying idle, says The Seafood Exporters Association of India. The marine food industry today has a capacity to process 14,000 tonnes of fish a day (mostly for freezing), but about 80 per cent of the capacity is not being used currently. This is because of two reasons. First, sea catch is stagnating. Second, the capacity is built to process peak catch. India has 409 modern freezing plants, of which 221 are approved by the European Union.In a bid to utilise the capacity, marine exporters want procedures eased for importing fish for processing and onward exports. Marine exporters are now permitted to import, but there are procedural bottlenecks, says Mr Anwar Hashim, President, The Seafood Exporters Association of India. For example, they have to obtain a "sanitary import permit", which takes at least two weeks to get. In countries such as China, the exporter just gives an undertaking that the imports are meant for processing and onward exports, and the undertaking is accepted".
There appears to be logic in the stand taken by the industry and their pleadings deserve full scale consideration by the governments at the state and central levels. Fish is considered one of the most nutritious foods man has ever known and unless the present problems are addressed with some sense of urgency, fish may end up in aquariums for decoration rather than as a vital food within a few years.