Fisheries Spice up Kerala’s Export Revenues
As the sun rises over Kerala, its bright rays catch thousands of fishing boats trawling the blue waters of the Arabian Sea. So intrinsic is fishing to Kerala, that this is a sight perhaps forever embedded in the consciousness of every Malayalee. With its long coastline and large water resources, fishing has been a traditional occupation in the state. In spite of dwindling catches, fishing remains an important part of Kerala’s socio-economic culture and the state still retains its pre-eminent position in the country’s fishing map.
The Fish Statistics: With a coastline of 590 km, Kerala has over 2.5 lakh fishermen and six lakh people dependent on fishing related activities like processing and fish vending for their livelihood. Kerala contributes about 20 percent of the country’s marine fish landings. The state has rich inland water bodies including 44 rivers, 30 major reservoirs, fresh ponds, tanks, backwater bodies and brackish water area. Over the years, the government has initiated several policies to ensure the use of better and more modern technology by the sector. This includes greater mechanisation of fishing crafts, use of synthetic gear and advances in electronic navigation with the use of sound echo as well as GPS. These measures have resulted in the development of better infrastructure for the fisheries sector. The state now has nearly 287 seafood exporters, 169 cold storages and 124 processing plants.
Policy measures also include setting up of institutions (for example, Agency for Development of Aquaculture) and launch of schemes like Matsyakeralam. The government has tried to increase rural self-employment by encouraging shrimp culture in brackish inland water and propagating the benefits of rice-fish farming.
Kerala’s Export Performance: Fisheries earn a handsome export revenue for the state, with marine export products being pegged at 1.25 lakh ton in 2010-11. The state’s share was 15.3 percent (volume) and 15.5 percent (value) when compared to all-India figures. The major export from Kerala has traditionally been shrimp. Other popular marine products that make their way from the Kerala seas to homes across the world include cuttle fish, squid, lobsters, crab. Dried items (shrimp, cuttle fish bones, shark fins), canned fish and ornamental fish are also exported.
Fishing in Troubled Waters: Despite fishing traditionally being one of Kerala’s economic mainstays, there are some areas of concern. During the period from 2005-06 to 2010-11, the Gross State Domestic Product of the state increased by leaps and bounds. However, the share of fisheries sector in the State Domestic Product has declined from 1.81 to 1.29 percent in the same period. Kerala’s share in exports has also been declining. As per figures available, its share declined from 20 percent in quantity terms in 2000-01 to 15.33 percent in 2010-11 and the share in value decreased to 15.52 percent from 16 percent.
One of the reasons could be that marine production contributes 82 percent of the state’s total fish production as compared to inland production. World over, there has been a fall in marine production due to loss of bio diversity and unsustainable fishing practices. This has had its impact on Kerala too. But with production from inland fishing improving, Kerala’s fishing sector should soon be swimming in more profitable waters.