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The local fish economy touches large percentage of the population

Goa’s fish economy in troubled waters

The formalin-in-fish expose is yet another fishy side of fishing activity in the state, reports, Shoma Patnaik 

Goa’s already floundering fish economy is facing rough weather currently due to the row over formalin spiked fish.

A fall-out of the formalin row is that, fish imports from other states are stopped and availability is down to a trickle. Goans who can only enjoy a meal with fish are badly affected by the scarcity. They are upset over the shortage of their staple food and at the soaring price of fish sold in the market.

Post ban the prices of local varieties has shot up making fish unaffordable to consumers. Resident’s focus of ire is on politicians for trying to cover up the issue and on profit hungry traders for contaminating fish with formalin.

Those dealing in fish are also deeply dissatisfied with the situation. Across markets and in restaurants and eateries demand for fish is dropped significantly. It is impacting business and the financial setback is worrying.

In Panjim market, vendor Baby Nair, says that she is not happy with the ban. “How can I be happy when business is down?” she asks. The ban she says, has affected her income and livelihood of the women in the market who sell fish. “We are looking at 15 days of no income,” she says, adding that she is working in the Panjim market for 40 years and never faced dearth of customers.

Trawler owners are concerned over the 15-day ban. Fish sales in the state are cross-border depending on the catch. In times of surplus or demanding on the demand, the catch is sold to outside buyers at a smart profit. Trawler owners are worried that the import ban will affect their outside sale once   the season reopens on August 1.

Although the formalin-in-fish row erupted recently, the presence of the chemical is an open secret, for those in the fish trade. Information gathered from a cross-section of fishermen reveals that, use of it is over a period of two years when fish began arriving from far off places states as Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Pondicherry, Gujarat and even the south-end of Orissa.

Transporting fish from far off places involves a travel time of about seven days and the only way to keep the produce fresh is formalin, said a Margao based trader. He said that, the trend of using formalin gathered momentum in recent years and it is surprising that nobody questioned how fish arriving from over 1000 km into the state was being transported. The trader said that, unrelenting fish demand at all times of the year from the tourism industry and from residents is the reason for spurt in supply from faraway states and for widespread use of formalin.

Goa’s fish economy is far reaching and complex. It comprises a supply chain made up of various middlemen. The economy includes the traditional fishermen, trawler owners, jetty workers,  retailers, vendors in the fish market, exporters, wholesalers, agents, middlemen, fish processors and host of individuals who are dependent on fish related activities. The economy is vast but the fisheries department has not estimated how many percentage of the population are actually dependent on fishing.

The state Economic Survey merely points out that, fishing is the only source of livelihood of sizable community of the fishermen who “are among the most vulnerable communities towards the vagaries of nature.” According to the Economic Survey, “fishing and aquaculture is an important sector and in 2016-17 contributed three per cent to the state GDP (at current prices).

Joseph D’Souza, president, GCCI, food processing committee, says that, the fish economy is in favour of agents and traders who take away at least 60 per cent of the fish price.  “Those who are catching fish, viz. the fishermen are not in a controlling position in the economy,” he says. The skewed nature of the fish trade can only be improved by creating cold storage capacity and building supporting infrastructure, he says.

Banning imports are not the solution. The right thing to do would be to create capacity for storage near jetties so that trawlers can  preserve the excess catch for times of shortage, say D’Souza. Every jetty co-operative must be encouraged to put up a 500 ton storage unit,” he adds.

Fish is an essential commodity of Goa. It has not been recognized as such but needs to be done looking how indispensable fish is to the residents. For Goans, fish is a part of the daily diet and fish-curry rice is a world famed dish. The local fish economy is floundering currently because of the ongoing formalin row, but that is not the only thing plaguing the sector.

Check reveals, that participants in fishing are beset by host of problems that affects the quality of fish. At the retail level, vendors complain of dirty fish markets and the lack of sanitation facilities. For the fishermen too the jetties are inhospitable places. They suffer from lack of space and face shortage of running water, toilets, etc. The fisheries department provides limited financial support to co-operatives and fishermen lack in insurance facilities.

According to fishermen, the government, viz. the fishing department is largely unresponsive to their needs. It has done little to encourage fish catch by cracking down on trawlers from other state encroaching in Goa territory. The fisheries department has no idea on the number of fish trucks arriving into the state or the quality of fish, point out fishermen.

Coming back to the formalin fish racket, the use of the chemical is acknowledged by the FSSAI that in a recent guideline, said, “formalin is common practice.” FSSAI has said that formalin is not an approved preservative and use of it is banned.

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