Big boost to aquaculture

Interview with K.S. Srinivas, Chairman of MPEDA.

Published : Mar 13, 2019 12:30 IST

K.S. Srinivas, The MPEDA, in Kochi.

K.S. Srinivas, The MPEDA, in Kochi.

K.S. SRINIVAS, Chairman of The Marine Products Export Development Authority (MPEDA), in an interview to Frontline , spoke at length about the state of the seafood industry and how the MPEDA works with various stakeholders to bolster exports and earn valuable foreign exchange for India. Excerpts:

Seafood exports are driven by the private sector. What is the MPEDA’s role in this?

The MPEDA is the nodal agency for the promotion of Indian seafood export. Its role is to create a congenial environment for the smooth export of fish and fishery products thereby paving the way for the growth of seafood exports. It identifies bottlenecks in seafood trade at each stage and takes corrective action. Broadly, it registers seafood processing units, fishing vessels, pre-processing centres, exporters, cold/other storages and chilled/live and dried fish handling centres, interacts with stakeholders, government departments, overseas importing authorities and associations. We initiate marketing activities such as buyer-seller meets, delegation visits to potential markets, participation in international seafood fairs, organising international seafood fairs in India and branding and advertisement for Indian seafood in various media platforms. Other functions include extension through societies such as the National Centre for Sustainable Aquaculture [NaCSA] among aqua farmers and Network for Fish Quality Management and Sustainable Fishing [NETFISH] among fishers and fish processing workers, and research and development for commercial aquaculture activities through the Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Aquaculture [RGCA].

Given the focus on sustainability the world over, how does the MPEDA propose to increase exports in line with the Union Agriculture Ministry’s 2020 vision, and, at the same time, keep in mind the need to remain sustainable?

India is the second largest fish producer in the world. The Indian marine fishing sector produced 3.83 million tonnes in 2017 with a potential of 4.40 million tonnes. Lack of adequate infrastructure facilities in fishing harbours and landing centres leads to post-harvest losses and reduction in the quality of fish landed, which in turn reduces the cost realisation. The MPEDA plays an active role in addressing the issue in order to upgrade the fishing harbours and landing centres to international standards, which in turn would facilitate better quality and pricing. As the catch from the fishing sector is more or less stagnating, aquaculture has been identified as the only alternative for generating additional raw material to augment seafood exports. Therefore, the Government of India has accorded a major thrust to it under the Blue Revolution scheme. Value addition of seafood is another thrust area to increase India’s export with sustainable utilisation of the existing resources.

Though countries such as Vietnam, China, and Thailand are making big strides in export of marine products through value addition of their own raw material and also through reprocessing of the imported raw material, the share of value-added products in volume in India’s exports is just 5 per cent as against 64 per cent of Thailand, 35 per cent of China and 26 per cent of Vietnam.

Many of our units still depend on wild caught material, which is seasonal in nature, and hence the average utilisation of processing capacity is only 25-30 per cent. A solution to this is to import raw material for value addition and re-export. This will enhance employment generation, improve profit margins and help exploit resources judiciously. The policy envisages higher investment in value addition, interventions to ease norms for import of raw materials and better incentives for value-added products. The MPEDA plays a pivotal role in capacity building on value addition and product development with overseas expertise. It also offers financial assistance schemes on infrastructure development for value addition and also for gaining international certifications for the value chains so that such accomplishments can be used as market access and promotional tools.

The MPEDA directly, and through NETFISH, plays a major role in sustaining resources and achieving coastal conservation through capacity-building measures and by urging policy interventions and implementation of regulations by the fisheries and wildlife departments. Planned development of aquaculture is one of the key steps for ensuring sustainability. With this objective in mind, the MPEDA has approached all the coastal States by preparing action plans for the development of export infrastructure, including the primary production infrastructure for diversified aquaculture.

Traceability labelling of catch is becoming a “must” in some regions, particularly Europe. So are the regulations to eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. What steps has the MPEDA taken to surmount these issues given India’s poor record in maintaining traceability?

The government is in the process of developing and having in place a robust traceability system for aquaculture produce right from the farms to processing plants through the chain of custody. The MPEDA has taken initiatives to prepare guidelines for the certification of farms and hatcheries, which will help in ensuring the traceability of produce. It is the nodal agency to validate the catch certification system under the European Union regulation 1005/2008 on IUU fishing and also for the ICCAT [International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas] system of catch reporting, which requires traceability up to the boat level. It also validates the DS 2031 certificate, required for exporting shrimps to the U.S. market, that the shrimps are harvested in a manner not harmful to sea turtles.

There have been instances of Indian seafood consignments being rejected in Europe and elsewhere. What role does the MPEDA play in ensuring that the products are accepted in these destination countries?

All the major importing countries such as the E.U. [27 member states], the U.S., and Japan test Indian seafood products at border inspection posts [BIP] for various parameters, including antibiotic residues, cadmium and microorganisms. On the basis of the test results, if there is a contamination, the consignment is rejected. Since October 2016, the E.U. has increased the sampling of Indian shrimp consignments to 50 per cent from 10 per cent, which may also be the reason for an increased number of detections.

What has been the role of the RGCA in achieving self-sufficiency in seeds?

The RGCA, which was established in 1995, acts as an aquaculture technology incubation centre for the MPEDA by producing seeds of commercial aquatic species meant exclusively for export.

What are the achievements of NETFISH?

NETFISH was formed as a society under the aegis of the MPEDA to impart training to fishermen on marine conservation, post-harvest handling and other techniques. It was formulated to concentrate on capacity building in fish quality management and conservation of marine fishery resources at the grass-roots level by networking with fishermen societies, federations and other non-governmental organisations.

Thus, NETFISH stands for improving the quality of fishery export and the sustainability of fishery resources. The overall objective of NETFISH is to improve sustainable livelihoods in the fisheries sector and to make concrete progress towards meeting the goals in fisheries.

NETFISH has been conducting extensive outreach programmes among fishers and fishery stakeholders in all coastal States of India since its inception in 2007, and in the 12-year period a total of 27,485 extension programmes were executed successfully in areas lying in and around selected harbours and landing centres across the country. NETFISH programmes include fish quality management programmes conducted at landing sites, fishing vessels, fisher villages, pre-processing centres, processing factories and fish-drying areas. Also, awareness programmes on conservation of marine resources and sustainable fishing are conducted in fishing vessels, fishing harbours and nearby places.

NETFISH also organises a variety of special programmes such as street plays, clean-up programmes, mass communication programmes, schoolchildren awareness programmes, door-to-door programmes, medical camps, sea safety and navigation training, livelihood development and skill development programmes on value addition of fishery products and square mesh fabrication. Apart from the regular quality management and conservation activities, special training and mini projects on production of hygienic dry fish, production of value-added fishery products, popularisation of square mesh cod ends, eradication of plastic from seas were also initiated by NETFISH.

NETFISH developed extension tools such as posters, leaflets, manuals, documentaries and animation films in English, Hindi and eight regional languages. Meetings and discussions are held regularly between various stakeholders to resolve issues regarding fish quality management and sustainable fishing and also for the development of infrastructure facilities at harbours and landing centres. NETFISH initiatives have helped fisher communities to further enhance their skill and knowledge in fish quality management and conservation of marine resources.

To encourage women entrepreneurs, NETFISH has supported the introduction of Fish Nutricart and mobile seafood kiosks in Visakhapatanam and Kochi. It is also a partner in the Kerala government’s Suchitwa Sagaram programme, which is aimed at recovering ghost nets and plastic debris from the sea.

What has been NaCSA’s experience with cluster farming? Is this the model for sustainable practice in the long run?

NaCSA is supporting sustainable aquaculture in India by creating a participatory movement that empowers the marginalised and poor rural aquaculture farmers through capacity-building at the grass-roots level. It is achieving this objective by organising aquaculture societies to improve information exchange and sharing of resources among group members, disseminating technologies and information on better farming practices, and through judicious use of natural resources to produce safe and sustainably farmed shrimp.

The NaCSA cluster farming concept is good and this project has been appreciated by a large section of small- and medium-scale aquaculture farmers who benefited from this cluster concept. NaCSA identified 918 clusters in six States within the span of a decade. There is a lot of attention from international organisations such as the United States Food and Drug Administration [FDA], the Network of Aquaculture Centres in Asia-Pacific [NACA] and the Food and Agricultural Organisation. These organisations recognised the “participatory approach” concept in the farming community, particularly among small and marginal farmers. This section of farmers are honouring NaCSA’s better management practices [BMP] and its allied activities and adopting BMPs in their clusters to prevent disease outbreak. They experienced comparatively lesser disease outbreak than outside aquaculture farms [7 per cent in clusters whereas outside it is 15-20 per cent]. Small and marginal farmers have come forward to form clusters to adopt NaCSA’s BMP for sustainable shrimp farming. This has given good encouragement in NaCSA and the MPEDA to strengthen their activities among a larger number of aquaculture farmers in all States.

These cluster concept farmers are more aware of the traceability system; food safety issues, mainly abuse of banned antibiotics in aquaculture farming; and certification norms through NaCSA training programmes and awareness campaigns. At this juncture, we don’t have any options other than the “participatory approach” to bring a level of sustainability among aquaculture primary producers. We believe that the cluster approach has shown successful results.

Are exporters shying away from value-added marine products? What steps has the MPEDA taken to encourage them to add value to their products?

There is great demand for seafood/seafood-based products in ready-to-eat “convenience” form. Successful value addition involves a combination of skilled manpower, ingredients, machinery and packaging, which ultimately leads to the production of high-risk products. Exporters rise to the challenges involved in the production of high-risk products. It is a fact that there is huge risk involved in the value-added products exports, which makes exporters hesitate to go for value addition. However, the MPEDA, in addition to policy and financial assistance support, also organises training programmes to develop workers’ skills for value addition.

As India exports only a small quantity of value-added products, the production and export of value-added products needs to be promoted. Additional incentives, extension of interest equalisation to units engaged in value addition irrespective of their MSME status, facilitation of smoother imports of raw material and ingredients for reprocessing activities and value addition can enhance the share of value-added marine products in our export basket. Another thrust area is enhancing exports of live and chilled seafood by air to nearby markets such as West Asia and East Asia. The share of live and chilled seafood in India’s total exports is just 2 per cent compared with the world trade average of 20 per cent.

What is the status of the anti-dumping duty [ADD] imposed on Indian marine products? Are there any other impediments that affect Indian exports?

On the basis of a representation from the Southern Shrimp Producers Alliance, an association of shrimp producers in the U.S., the U.S. Department of Commerce initiated ADD on shrimp imports from India in 2004. The association had contended that India was selling shrimp at a price lower than that given to any other country. The initial ADD imposed was 10.17 per cent. It was reviewed subsequently.

What steps has the MPEDA taken towards diversification since one species dominates exports?

The MPEDA conducts awareness campaigns for farmers on the culture of different species utilising the diverse climatic and geographical conditions of the country and the vast and diverse aquatic resources available. The major species currently promoted are genetically improved farmed tilapia, mud crab, sea bass, cobia and pompano. The MPEDA also carries out demonstrations of these species in farmers’ ponds with technical support from the RGCA. These activities have created interest among farmers and entrepreneurs about the potential of the species as commercial ventures.

However, the major constraint now is the lack of enough hatcheries for seed production. The MPEDA/RGCA is motivating State governments to set up hatcheries of the candidate species by assuring them of the necessary technological support. A few States have signed a memorandum of understanding in this regard. It is expected that in the next few years there will be more hatcheries to meet the seed demand.

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