Ornamental fish industry more lucrative

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This is the fifth and the last in a five series of articles, based on a recent World Bank (WB) report, on the Sri Lanka fishery sector.

While the first article gave a broad overview of the industry, the second focused on the depletion of the tuna stock and the threat that this deleterious development is causing to the industry as a whole, the third in this series gave a brief overview of the potentialities of the coastal fishing industry, the fourth gave a broad overview of the shrimp industry and this, the last, the potentiality of the ornamental fish industry and the way forward for the industry as a whole.

Nonetheless, a glaring omission in this WB report is that it overlooks the repercussions that Indian fisher poaching is causing to the local fishery industry as a whole. This WB report, which was out in September 2021 (see below) doesn’t, ipso facto, take into account Sri Lanka declaring insolvency on 12 April 2022 and its impact on the fishery sector, neither does it touch on the current fuel crisis besetting this sector.

Sri Lanka can play a role in meeting the global demand for fish by diversifying primary products and deepening value addition, creating skilled, better-paid jobs, especially for women and youth, the WB, in a recent document, said.

The publication titled ‘Priorities for Sustainably Managing Sri Lanka’s Marine Fisheries, Coastal Aquaculture, and the Ecosystems That Support Them’, dated   September 2021, but released on the WB website only on 3 March 2022 further said that the ornamental fish industry also has potential.

Although exact figures on the value and trade of the ornamental fish industry do not exist, the estimated export value of ornamental fish and invertebrates imported into different countries worldwide was approximately US$ 348 million in 2014, it said.

Pet industry surveys have estimated the aquarium industry to be worth at more than one billion dollars, the WB said. Although most fish kept in aquariums are from fresh water, the acquisition of marine ornamental fish has greatly increased.

A typical reef tank makes use of live rock, both hard and soft corals, invertebrates such as crustaceans (for example, crabs, hermit crabs, shrimps), mollusks (for example, snails, clams, and scallops), echinoderms (for example, starfish, sand dollars, sea urchins), and a wide variety of colourful fish. Consequently, the market value spent on many species of marine origin associated with the ornamental trade has greatly increased.

 For example, the retail value for a kilogram of coral reef fish destined for the aquarium trade may be worth $500 to $1,800, whereas a marine fish used for human consumption can be priced as low as between $6 and $16.50 per kg, the WB said.

The WB further said that in the medium term (three to seven years), to develop the fishery industry as a whole: Create a sustainable fisheries investment fund to complement public infrastructure with private investments in such things as ice-making, refrigeration, processing, and value addition.

Various design and operational structures could be considered, but the fund would essentially be an additional mechanism to help increase the economic potential of the private sector while further incentivising sustainable practices. It could offer loans or matching grants to small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and include a capacity-building component to build the business skills of fishers who wish to operate more like SMEs.

 To ensure these investments do not stimulate more fishing effort, they could be conditioned on a history of good reporting and compliance with management plans and focus on helping fishers add value to their catch rather than increase their catch, the WB advised. Where relevant, investments could also be made in businesses further up the value chain, but again be linked to active engagement in the management process, including data sharing. 

Consider replacing the existing multiday fisheries (MDF) fleet with a newly designed and built fleet of modern ‘multiweek’ long-liners equipped with ultra-low temperature (ULT) technology. For Sri Lanka to maintain a competitive domestic fleet, Government of Sri Lanka may wish to aid the private sector to invest in a gradual and organised transition over the next few years, shifting to a smaller number of larger vessels, owned and operated by Sri Lankans, based on a feasibility study, the WB said.

Implement a research and development (R&D) programme to identify fishing gear and techniques that would enable vessels that exit the longline/yellowfin fishery to transition toward targeting healthy fish stocks such as swordfish, skipjack, or other pelagic species closer to shore.

Once viable options are identified, the sustainable fisheries investment fund could provide financing to help owners adapt their vessel and gear and train their crew to target the new species. This would help reduce yellowfin catches and provide a viable economic alternative to certain vessels.

Establish a multipronged marketing initiative to access higher-value markets on the basis of increased quality and contribution to the yellowfin tuna (YFT) rebuilding plan by Sri Lanka’s MDF. This would include funding to promote (a) Sri Lankan tuna purchases in the Middle East and markets where ULT freezing requirements are not yet in place; (b) swordfish and other pelagic species in Europe and other high-value markets and (c) the identification and access of (MDF) seafood to the domestic tourism sector and other high-value domestic markets. This effort would be greatly strengthened by the investments described above in traceability and improved governance, the WB said.

Nonetheless, a key omission in the WB report is the adverse impact caused to the local fishery industry due to Indian fisher poaching. (Concluded)

Some of the Ecological Consequences due to the X-Press Pearl Disaster

One of the study areas under the Advisory Services and Analytics (ASA) is within the identified impact area of the maritime disaster that took place in the Sri Lankan coastal waters in May 2021 and the ASA will address this impact in complementarity with the Government of Sri Lanka’s (GoSL’s) ongoing and planned efforts, the World Bank (WB) in a recent document said.

The WB, in a publication titled “Priorities for Sustainably Managing Sri Lanka’s Marine Fisheries, Coastal Aquaculture, and the Ecosystems that Support Them,” dated   September 2021, but released on the WB website only on 3 March2022, further said that on 20 May 2021, about 9.5 nautical miles from Colombo Harbour, the Singapore-based cargo ship MV X-Press Pearl, carrying hazardous chemicals, caught fire, leaving in its wake one of the worst marine environmental disasters Sri Lanka has experienced.

Large quantities of plastic nurdles (a raw material used in the plastics manufacture industry), part of the ship’s cargo, along with the carcasses of dead fish, turtles, and marine mammals washed up on local beaches in the aftermath of the accident.

In mid-August 2021, the vessel was lying half submerged off the western coast, and the presence of hazardous chemicals in its cargo containers and tons of engine oil in the hull continued to present a risk of spillage at the time of writing it said.

 A fishing ban was imposed and continues to be in effect in the Negombo and Colombo fisheries districts and two fisheries inspector divisions of the Kalutara fisheries district, at the time of writing on 21 September, affecting an estimated 16,000 direct and connected livelihoods in the fisheries sector, the WB said.

GoSL has been implementing a programme of compensation payments to the affected fisher families using the initial proceeds from its insurance claim related to the vessel disaster, it said. This area is part of the focus of the small pelagics stock assessment and fishery management plan (FMP) development and thebioeconomic modelling and local economy-wide impact evaluation( bioeconomic modelling and local economy-wide impact evaluation ( Bio-LEWIE)) modelling exercises supported by the ASA and follow-up work, the WB said.

By Paneetha  Ameresekere