Rapid strides

In the face of continued uncertainties in the global seafood trade, India has retained its position as a leading supplier of frozen shrimp and frozen fish thanks to the support and technological assistance of the MPEDA.

Published : Mar 13, 2019 12:30 IST

A view of the RGCA complex at Vallarpadam, Kochi, Kerala.

A view of the RGCA complex at Vallarpadam, Kochi, Kerala.

FROM helping exporters find a market for dry fish to providing broad spectrum end-to-end support to the marine products industry, the Marine Products Export Development Authority (MPEDA), set up by an Act of Parliament in 1972, has travelled a long way.

The MPEDA is the nodal agency for the holistic development of seafood industry in India not just on paper but also in practice, as evidenced by the close cooperation between the institution and the industry. On the basis of the recommendations of the MPEDA, the Government of India notified new standards for fishing vessels, storage premises, processing plants and conveyances. The MPEDA focusses on market promotion, capture fisheries, culture fisheries, processing, infrastructure and value addition, quality control and research and development.

The Authority’s main concern in its formative years was adherence to the high standards of quality followed by international markets. In order to achieve this, every stage of the seafood industry, from the primary production to shipment, had to be standardised.

The quality of seafood was affected by the lack of adequate cold supply chain. In order to demonstrate the importance of proper preservation and transport of raw material, the MPEDA started operating refrigerated trucks in Kochi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Visakhapatnam and Chennai.

Promotion of seafood exports

In order to promote Indian seafood exports, the MPEDA organised the first international seafood fair in Mumbai in November 1973. By the end of the 1970s, regional offices for export promotion were established in all maritime States. This has helped in better coordination of export promotion activities with the industry. The MPEDA found it important to have a base outside the country on a permanent basis. The Trade Promotion Office in Tokyo was established in 1977 to have a constant presence in the Japanese market. For augmenting raw materials for export by promoting culture fisheries, the first prawn farming regional centre was started in Kochi in 1978 followed by another regional centre in Bhubaneswar in 1980. The MPEDA set up a 500-tonne capacity frozen storage at Wellington Island in Kochi to improve the storage infrastructure.

The 1980s saw the rise of new markets and the United States became a major market after Japan. With the rapid growth of the U.S. market, the MPEDA opened the second Overseas Trade Promotion Office in New York. During the decade, the Authority guided and played its own role for the rapid development of aquaculture by importing and introducing new technologies. During this decade, it expanded its network by establishing more field offices and prawn farming centres to take advantage of the export opportunity available in different regions. Growth in shrimp-based exports but the focus on hygienic peeling of shrimp, and in order to demonstrate hygienic peeling, the MPEDA initiated community peeling centres at Sakthikulangara and Neendakara, both in Kerala.

Aquaculture development

As aquaculture developed, supply of quality seeds became an issue. Farmers were depending on the natural stock from the wild for seeds. The technology for setting up hatcheries was not available in India. The MPEDA set up two hatcheries, The Andhra Pradesh Shrimp Seed Production, Supply and Research Centre (TASSPARC) at Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh, and Orissa Shrimp Seed Production, Supply and Research Centre (OSSPARC) at Berhampur in Odisha by sourcing foreign technology from Aquatic Farms, Hawaii, and France Aquaculture, Paris. These commercial hatcheries addressed the problem of shrimp seeds for culture, resulting in a revolution in the culture of black tiger shrimp. These two hatcheries, which were commissioned in February 1989, ignited the hatchery movement for shrimp in India. The MPEDA’s hatcheries became a role model for the subsequent development of the private hatchery industry in India.

In order to build the capacity of farmers and stakeholders, the MPEDA set up a prawn farming project complex at Vallarpadom in Kochi. The project complex used to impart training on site selection, the basic principles of good aquaculture practices and help in preparing feasibility reports. In the late 1980s, the MPEDA took up demonstration of scientific, tide-fed shrimp farming using hatchery seed and imported commercial shrimp feeds. These demonstration programmes, taken up with the funding assistance of the Department of Biotechnology, revolutionised commercial shrimp farming in India and gave a boost to tiger shrimp production. Shrimp exports, which were hovering at about 60,000-70,000 tonnes until the 1980s crossed 100,000 tonnes in 1995 and paved the way for further growth of seafood exports in the country on the strength of aquaculture production.

The seafood export and aquaculture industry was growing rapidly and the industry found it difficult to find finance as at that time banks were not open to funding modernisation of processing plants, harvesting of deep-sea resources and aquaculture development. The MPEDA introduced an equity participation scheme, which encouraged investment by promoters and financing by financial institutions. The scheme facilitated the setting up of the first project in India for the production of individually quick-frozen (IQF) cooked shrimp in consumer packs and the first Indian project for tuna fishing in the Indian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Realising the importance of the freshness of the catch in the quality of the fish product and in order to exploit the resources in deeper waters, financial assistance was provided to equip country boats with outboard engines. The promise of economic benefits of the scheme saw many State governments introduce the scheme for fishermen with traditional boats.

The MPEDA played a key role in formulating the country’s first deep-sea fishing policy and also contributed in the formulation of a joint venture policy in the field of deep-sea fishing. The first oceanic super seiner for skipjack was introduced in a joint venture with foreign collaborations. The operation of a pilot project with monofilament longline technology by the MPEDA in collaboration with the deep-sea fishing industry established the technical feasibility of tuna longlining. The MPEDA played a major role in modernising the industry, which resulted in a rapid increase in exports in the 1990s. The modernisation schemes included installation of instruments such as the fishfinder, a device to locate fish underwater, GPS and radio telephones.

During this period, the MPEDA and the Kerala Industrial Infrastructure Development Corporation (KINFRA) formed a joint venture named Marine Products Infrastructure Development Corporation Ltd (MIDCON). This venture worked to realise the vision of setting up a seafood park with world-class processing and laboratory facilities. MIDCON later joined hands with a few seafood exporters to set up a modern pre-processing centre at Aroor, Kerala, called Seafood Park (India) Ltd.


The inaugural edition of the aquaculture show, INDAQUA, was organised in March 1993 in Chennai. This event brought the stakeholders under one umbrella.

The shrimp farms in Andhra Pradesh, the leading State in aqua farming, was affected by a viral disease in the mid-1990s. The MPEDA, through JETRO (Japan External Trade Organisation), sought the help of Dr M. Maeda, a Japanese expert in the field of shrimp diseases. He suggested several measures to tackle the disease. Dr Donald Lightner, shrimp pathologist from the U.S., also visited India that time. Measures were also taken by the MPEDA to control the spread of the disease.

In 1996, the Supreme Court ordered the demolition of aquaculture farms within the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ), following a public interest litigation petition. The MPEDA intervened and obtained a stay. The Aquaculture Authority of India (AAI) was subsequently constituted to regulate coastal aquaculture. Another major setback was the ban on Indian marine products by the European Union (E.U.) in 1996 citing non-compliance with E.U. quality standards. The MPEDA intervened and the standards of the processing plants were improved. An E.U. team visited India and approved 10 processing plants initially for exporting to the E.U. Today, India has the largest number of E.U.-approved processing plants.

During this period, the MPEDA prepared the standard input output norms (SION) under the export-import policy for seafood. Import of raw materials for export production is based on these norms. For ensuring the quality of the seeds, the MPEDA introduced DOT BLOT diagnostic kits across its field offices for screening virus infection in shrimp seeds. The MPEDA expanded the scope of the products to include live fishes, including ornamental fishes. It also carried out market surveys in South Africa, China, Korea and Taiwan to expand export markets.

The motto in the new millennium was conservation and protection, and the focus on the quality of exports continued. The U.S. made the DSP121 certificate mandatory for all shrimp exports. The MPEDA introduced a pilot scheme for the installation of turtle excluder devices (TED) in mechanised vessels undertaking trawling for shrimps to facilitate certification. The MPEDA launched a logo scheme for enhancing consumer confidence through rigorous testing and for better international acceptance by creating a special brand image. The logo was registered with the patent/trademark registering authorities in the E.U., the U.S. and Japan. As part of the brand promotion policy, the MPEDA and SYSCO Corporation Inc, U.S., one of the biggest conglomerates in frozen foods, signed a co-branding agreement for the promotion of Indian black tiger shrimp in U.S. markets. Under this agreement, the MPEDA’s logo was co-branded with SYSCO’s well-established PORTICO brand.

Technological breakthrough

In order to carry out research to assist and find solutions to problems facing the industry, the MPEDA set up the Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Aquacuture (RGCA) in January 1996. Among its significant technological breakthroughs are: Hatchery production of Asian sea bass fish seed round the year with recirculatory aquaculture system and technology for farming of Asian sea bass in cages and open ponds; development of technology for the hatchery production of mud crab seed; production of eighth generation of specific pathogen free (SPF) black tiger shrimp and streamling the technology for domestication and production of SPF tiger shrimp, technology for mass production of artemia cysts in salt pan areas; and processing of artemia cyst and production of artemia biomass. To help in the collective growth of small farmers and for the implementation of better management practices, the MPEDA set up the National Centre for Sustainable Aquaculture (NaCSA) in 2007 in Kakinada, Andhra Pradesh. The cluster farming concept was well received by international organisations. It also created the Network for Fish Quality Management and Sustainable Fishing (NETFISH) in 2007, keeping in mind the goals of quality, sustainability, conservation and protection of environment. The primary aim of NETFISH is to impart training on quality management and sustainable fishing at the grass-roots level.

The MPEDA has taken several steps to ensure sustainability of exports of sea foods. These include catch certification, establishment of ELISA labs for quicker testing, setting up a model fishing harbour, creating common pre-processing centres and pushing exporters to go in for value-added products. The MPEDA introduced a handful of new schemes for improving production and export. For better preservation of the catch, assistance was given for setting up modern ice plants to produce quality ice. Sea freight assistance was introduced to encourage imports of seafood, for providing raw material for value addition and for re-exporting. This helped offset the freight difference in exporting value-added marine products. For capturing the vast oceanic resources of tuna in the Indian EEZ, a scheme was introduced for converting existing fishing vessels into tuna longliners. The MPEDA provided hands-on training to the fishermen in the capture of tuna using monofilament longlines. It supported the establishment of three modern chilled fish handling centres at the National Institute of Fisheries Post Harvest Technology and Training in Kochi and Visakhapatnam and at the Matsyafed processing complex in Kochi. The present schemes are focussed on certification of fisheries, aquaculture systems and the related chain of custody, and infrastructure development for high-end value addition and for investments in handling centres to export live, chilled and dried marine products.When Indian shrimp exports to the U.S. began to increase steadily, anti-dumping petitions were filed against Indian exporters by the U.S. seafood trade action committee and Southern Shrimp Alliance (SSA), a coalition of shrimp producing States in the U.S. The imposition of duty and additional enhanced bond requirement left the industry in a shambles. The issue was taken up by the MPEDA through the Ministry of Commerce at the World Trade Organisation. At the dispute settlement forum of the WTO, the ruling was in favour of India and the MPEDA. As a result, the U.S. stopped the enhanced bond requirement for import of shrimp from all countries, including India from April 2009. The industry and the MPEDA were always on their toes as the anti-dumping duty (ADD) is reviewed annually, but they have been successful in reducing the impact of the ADD.

A legal petition for imposition of countervailing duty (CVD) on import of shrimps was filed on December 28, 2012, by the Coalition of Gulf Shrimp Industries (COGSI), against shrimp exports to the U.S. by China, Thailand, Vietnam, Ecuador, Indonesia, and Malaysia. The COGSI claims that subsidies provided by India to the Indian shrimp Industry provided an unfair advantage to Indian shrimp exports to the U.S., resulting in Indian exporters selling their products at lower prices. On behalf of India, the MPEDA had consultations with the U.S. stakeholders. In August 2013, U.S. Department of Commerce announced its affirmative final determination in the CVD investigations of imports of certain frozen warm water shrimp from Ecuador, India, Malaysia, China, Vietnam and negative final determination for Indonesia and Thailand. Exporters from India have been assigned a subsidy of 10.84 per cent. As some of the subsidy schemes in India have been terminated, and due to the continuous efforts by the MPEDA, the U.S. determined a cash deposit rate of 5.85 per cent for exports made from India.

The E.U. has brought out a catch certification scheme vide E.U. Regulation 1005/2008, which has been designed to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. This has been a mandatory requirement for all countries exporting seafood to the E.U. from January 1, 2010. The MPEDA was notified by the Commerce Ministry as the Competent Authority to validate the catch certification as per the E.U. requirements for import of sea-caught varieties. The MPEDA is switching the validation programme to an online system in accordance with its e-governance initiatives.

In the process of establishing a risk-based traceability programme, the U.S. authorities have implemented the Seafood Import Monitoring Programme (SIMP) for 15 priority species out of 17 from January 1, 2018. Shrimps, India’s principal export variety to the U.S. market, and abalone were not included under the SIMP initially to streamline the data collection methods followed for both the varieties in the U.S. Before shrimp gets included under the SIMP, the MPEDA has conducted a series of awareness campaigns among stakeholders to enlighten them on the process of record-keeping and data-submission.

With the timely intervention and adequate support to the industry by the MPEDA, seafood exports reached an all-time high in 2017-18 and crossed the magic figure of $7 billion. In 2017-18, India exported 13,77,244 tonnes of seafood worth Rs.45,106.89 crore.

In the face of continued uncertainties in the global seafood trade, India has been able to cling to its position as a leading supplier of frozen shrimp and frozen fish in international markets. Despite the daunting challenges of oversupply as reflected in the double-digit shrimp exports by Ecuador and Argentina in 2017, the increased supply from Vietnam and Thailand, the drop in global shrimp prices, and issues relating to antibiotic residues, India’s seafood industry has maintained its growth streaks.

Indian marine products are exported to around 110 countries, and the MPEDA is looking to expand the market for Indian seafood and also to consolidate its presence in existing markets. The industry wholeheartedly supports the MPEDA in its endeavours to expand production, improve productivity and diversify the market base so as to achieve the ambitious export target of $10 billion much before the target date of 2022.

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