Kerala's marine export sector faces crisis amid ocean warming and Red Sea conflict

Four export-oriented fish processing units in the state have closed down during the past two months
Fishermens trying to pick the fish from the fishing nets
Fishermens trying to pick the fish from the fishing netsPhoto | Express

KOCHI: Depletion of marine resources due to warming of the Arabian Sea, the Red Sea conflict and slowdown in the US, European and Japan markets have landed the fisheries and seafood export sector in Kerala in deep crisis. According to the seafood industry, four export-oriented fish processing units in Kerala have closed down during the past two months due to non-availability of fish.

Congestions at major transshipment ports across the globe and resultant vessel delays, coupled with reefer container shortage have landed the seafood export sector in deep crisis, said Seafood Exporters Association of India regional president M R Premachandra Bhat.

“The Main Line Operators (MLOs) are not accepting long transiting reefers and perishable cargoes. They have temporarily stopped booking for US ports due to prevailing congestion and vessel omission. Global port congestion has reached an 18- month high with long lines of ships waiting for berths in transhipment ports, hindering timely deliveries. Though the shipping rates had shown a downward trend after Covid, the Red Sea crisis and the diversion of ships via Cape of Good Hope have led to the current congestion, forcing operators to impose a rate hike. The rate to the US west coast has rocketed by three-fold. The frequency of direct sailing in the Kochi-Europe sector has reduced from weekly to fortnightly,” he said.

The crisis has upset the seafood export to the US as well as the reviving Chinese markets due to delay in delivery. Europe and Middle East cargo also face the same situation resulting in escalation in freight rates, said Premachandra Bhat.

Exporters have urged the intervention of the Union government to sort out the issues and ensure smooth trade and export. Sources said Indian seafood consignments take 45 days to reach US market while countries like Ecuador which deliver goods in 10 days are taking advantage of the situation.

Meanwhile, the All Kerala Fishing Boat Operators Association has approached Fisheries Minister Saji Cherian seeking government support to tide over the crisis triggered by the depletion of marine stocks.

“We got only 85 days of work last year. Fishing operations have become unviable due to depletion of stocks and rising fuel price. Most of the fish species have migrated to deeper seas due to the warming of the coastal sea. Almost all the fishing boat owners are in debt trap and around 20% of them have sold their boats,” said All Kerala Fishing Boat Owners Association (AKFBOA) in a petition submitted to minister Saji Cherian.

“We have urged the minister to have a unified tax system for the fishing sector and to avoid imposing hefty fines on boats for delay in renewing the fishing licence. The fisheries department is imposing exorbitant fine on fishing boats for violations like juvenile fishing. However, the fisheries department or research organisations have not come up with the technology to avoid juveniles in catch,” said AKFBOA general secretary Joseph Xavier Kalapurackal.

Marine researchers accept that there has been a movement of fish species under the impact of the Indian Ocean Dipole and El Nino. “The impact of marine heatwave was strong in Northern Indian Ocean for around 130 days from October 2023. The warming of the coastal waters changed the availability and pattern of some species. The impact was visible in the catch during the first quarter and first half of the second quarter this year. But as the warming phase is over and the monsoon is close to normal and if La Nina sets in, the conditions will be congenial for return of these species,” said Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute Marine Biodiversity and Environment Management Division head Grinson George.

The CMFRI is conducting a study on the change in phytoplankton, zooplankton and bacterial population in the coasts.

Regarding the depletion of oil sardine stock, he said there has been a historical interannual fluctuation in sardine stocks in Kerala’s coastal waters. Climate change and warming of the sea has increased its periodicity. When the conditions become favourable, generally the oil sardine stocks will recoup. Studies suggest there will be a latitudinal movement of fish species due to warming of the sea on a long-term basis and to deeper waters on a short-term. 85 days of work was all fishermen could manage last year

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