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Impact of Covid-19 on the harvest and post-harvest sector of fisheries in India and the way forward

INR 6,838 crore/ month is the estimated loss as per ICAR- Central Institute of Fisheries Technology.

The pandemic COVID-19 and the management measures including the lockdown of the nation has affected the fisheries sector of India in a multitude of ways. The effects are to be viewed in the background the large contributions the fisheries sector is providing to the nation and to the livelihood of the people in India. The fisheries sector contributed to about Rs 1.75 lakh crores to the Gross Value Added (GVA) in the year 2017-18 (current prices). In 2017-18, India produced 12. 6 million tonnes of fish consisting of 8.9 million tonnes by inland sector and 3.7 million tonnes by the marine sector. Fish is the most important agricultural commodity exported from India, which accounted for close to 6.7 billion US $ in the year 2018-19 (Rs 46.6 thousand crores). Fisheries is an important livelihood option to about 16 million people at the primary level and almost twice the number along the value chain.

The major impact of Covid-19 on fisheries sector – macro issues

The major disruptions are in terms of restrictions on congregation and movements of the fishermen and other stakeholders in the fishing vessels and in the markets; restriction on movement of vehicles; reduced operations of supporting services including banking, insurance, input and service delivery; freight and quality checking; and trade restrictions. The major impacts at the national level can be studied on several dimensions- the developmental and transformational impacts on the fish supply chain, emergency situations in terms of food and nutritional security, shocks in fish trade and marketing, and situations warranting invoking of large scale of social security measures. In this document we examine the impact on harvest and post-harvest areas of fish value chain.

Impact on fishing and fishermen
  • The mechanised fishing vessels, particularly trawlers, gillnetters and longliners could not venture out leading to reduction in fish harvested. In some cases, only traditional fishermen are venturing out for having subsistence. The reduced fishing from marine areas has affected the livelihood of lion’s majority of stakeholders in the value chain.
  • Those fishermen who ventured out into the sea just before the declaration of the lock down, while returning back had to throw out/ destroy the entire catch as there was complete closure of harbours and marketing services. For example, reports indicates that about 10000 tonnes of fish had to be dumped back at sea during the first week of lock down. Also, of the 300 deep sea shrimp trawlers (7-8 day fishing) nearly 60 fishing vessel that reached the harbor at Kollam had to discard their catch i.e. about 2000-3000 kg/boat causing a loss of Rs. 2-3 lakh per fishing vessels. Reports indicate that gillnetters and longliners of Tamil Nadu coast had to discard the catch of the entire 30-40 day fishing at Kochi, due to non-operation of harbours when they landed. Similar reports are coming from all over the maritime states in India.
  • The lockdown has affected the inland and backwater fisheries as well- about 60000 in Kerala alone.
  • The workers involved in several operations - fishing vessels, net mending, boat repairing etc.- have not worked during the period. Many migrant workers involved in these activities have gone back, thereby disrupting the entire value chain. It would take considerable time to normalise the situation and ensure the backward supply chain even after withdrawal of the lockdown period.
  • The credit in fisheries sector being dominated by the informal sector. The present situation has affected the credit repayment and other transactions
  • The usual closure of operation of mechanical vessels including trawlers are about to commence in many states within 2-3 months. The continued period of loss of employment and stopping of fishing activity would have serious long term repercussions on the sector and on the livelihood of fishermen.
Fish processing, marketing and export
  • Seafood processing firms are of different size, varying from simple processing activities targeting localised markets to high-end processing activities targeting export markets. These processing firms are affected in varying degrees.
  • Closure of the firms directly affects the market supply of processed and packed food products in domestic and international markets.
  • The livelihood of fish sellers, including the itinerant women fish sellers, is greatly disrupted during this time.
  • The food and nutritional security of the fish consumers are hampered due to reduced demand and lack of availability- particularly for protein for those depend on fish for their protein requirement.
  • Marine products exports to many countries has stopped- reports indicate that exports to USA has reduced to less than half. The economic slowdown due to the pandemic in our major export destinations including USA, European Union and UK, and China could dampen our export performance in the days to come. This could affect Indian aquaculture in the backend. Wuhan, the major town from where the N-Covid -19 is a major importer of live sea food items from India. Exports of live and chilled seas foods, including crabs and lobsters accounts for Rs 1000 crore exports. Lately, China has opened up the shrimp imports from India.
  • One important fall out would be adjustment of global prices of sea food- the demand contraction would reduce the prices- the consignments already at exporting stages are most probably end up in a price reduction in short term.
  • The first and foremost target would be limiting the spread of the Covid-19. Therefore, all the stakeholders in the fish value chain are to be encouraged to follow the guidelines issued by the government and health workers strictly.
  • The social security protection, including Public Distribution System, to the affected fishermen, to be enhanced. The most important priority is to ensure their food and nutritional security towards which public distribution systems (PDS) will serve as the key.
  • The full potential of the community may be leveraged to ensure that no worker in fisheries sector go hungry and none of their basic needs compromised. Community kitchen with the help of local communities and state government is a viable option.
  • The migrant workers are to be protected so that their livelihood, food, medicine etc are to be taken care of by the state. The directions of the government with regard to payment for the workers by the firms are to be adhered to strictly.
  • It is to be ensured that the boat owners and processing firms pay for the workers during lockdown days in order to sustain their livelihood. Norms and procedures may be devised to at least partially support the firms who cannot afford to make full payment to the workers during these lockdown days. Towards this, utilisation of various existing instruments like PMDRF/ ESI etc can be thought of.
  • Considering the livelihood challenges of small scale and traditional fishermen, they may be allowed to fish from territorial waters following all the safety requirements and sell locally.
  • Government may consider a comprehensive package considering the financial need of the fisheries sector including exporters.
  • Government may consider allowing all the support activities related with fish products (certification, customs, cold chain transport, permits etc) exports to be under essential category so that they may function with reduced man power following strict health guidelines.
  • Long standing demands of fish exporters may be considered so that they would be able to tide over the difficult situation.
  • In view of blockage of courier services, government may negotiate with other countries so as to agree upon soft copies with due authorisation also as acceptable documents instead of hard copies.
  • The full impact of the COVID-19 is yet to be manifested. Due allowance may be given to the fact that the impacts mentioned above and recommendations herein are based on the situation today.
Additional notes

ICAR - Central Institute of Fisheries Technology, Kochi - 682029

  • Because of the COVID-19, and consequent lull in domestic and export markets, the aquaculture firms has encountered loss in terms of need to maintain the fish stock for more time incurring operational expenditure. Also such firms face more risk. The farmers needs supports at this time.
  • There are reports emanating from various corners of the country regarding sale of fish laced with chemicals like formaldehyde. The practice has the potential to affect the health of the consumers, besides affecting the consumer confidence, affecting the fisheries economy in long term. The department concerned have to issue advisories, and the regulatory and enforcement authorities needs to be vigil on this. The surveillance is to be stepped up.
  • It is reported that the demand for dry fish is going up, owning to the lack of availability of fresh fish, particularly in non-coastal areas. However, it is difficult to cater to the demand, due to the lack of availability of dry fish with prescribed quality. Therefore, steps may be taken to encourage dry fish marking, following all the health advisories. Because of the restriction on movement and congregation of people, in many cases fresh fish is difficult to be marketed. Such fish also can be processed by drying.
  • Initiatives may be taken to promote online fish marketing, as fresh fish markets are mostly non-operational now. This can be done, as online food delivery is already active in many cities. The online fish marketing firms may be encouraged in this direction.
  • It is to be ensured that the boat owners and processing firms pay for the workers during lockdown days in order to sustain their livelihood. Norms and procedures may be devised to at least partially support the firms who cannot afford to make full payment to the workers during these lockdown days. Towards this, utilisation of various existing instruments like PMNRF/ ESI etc can be thought of. (This is a modification of the earlier recommendation on this. It was written PMDRF, it is now PMNRF).
  • The pandemic and the lockdown have resulted in large scale disruptions in the value chain of marine capture fisheries in India. The major effect is due to the supply shock- as a large number of fishermen practicing in mechanised sector- longlining, gillnetting and trawling in particular- are not venturing out into the sea. The total fish production in India is about 13.7 m tonnes in 2018-19, out of which about 35% are contributed by marine sector. Considering the mechanised fishing ban period and that about three-forth of total production is contributed by mechanised sector, and an average price of Rs 175/ kg, the total loss could come to about Rs 6913 crore per month. This figure can be broadly corroborated with the estimates that can be arrived at by using the data on value of output of marine fisheries reported by Central Statistical Office. The total value of output from marine fishery sector in the year 2015-16 (latest year for which data is available) is Rs 68414 crore (current prices). The office of economic advisor, ministry of commerce indicate an average wholesale price inflation of marine fish about 5%. Taking this into account, the value of output lost would come to about Rs 6763 crores per month. For stability of figures, an average of the values arrived by both the methods are taken, which comes to about Rs 6838 crore/ month, of which, Rs 6008 crore is the loss by the mechanised sector and Rs 830 crore by non-mechanised sector (88 and 12%, respectively). This turns out to be about a loss of Rs 224 crore a day for fishing sector. (The figures arrived at by secondary data, discussion with experts, fishermen and best assumptions)