Soaring Fish Prices

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A recent FAO release, quoting Fisheries State Ministry Secretary Jayantha Chandrasoma, said that more than 50 per cent of animal protein requirements of Sri Lankans is obtained through fish consumption.

“But the increase in fish prices has impacted negatively on the affordability of fish and fisheries-related products, particularly for low-income groups,” the release further quoting Chandrasoma said.

He had also said that Sri Lanka’s fisheries industry is undergoing many difficulties due to the increase in fuel prices, production costs and the increase in prices of fish.

More than three months have elapsed since Chandrasoma is quoted to have made this statement and though a new President, from a different party, a Premier and a Cabinet have been elected/appointed since, very little or nothing has been done to alleviate the sufferings of the poor by at least overseeing the reduction of fish prices by the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL).

For instance, Census and Statistics Department data showed that the retail price of a kilo of dried sprats as at last month end had increased by nearly Rs 1,100 (119 per cent) year-on-year to Rs 2,000, fresh Salaya fish by more than Rs 450 (135 per cent) to Rs 800 a Kg and Kelawella by nearly Rs 1,300 (113 per cent) to Rs 2,755 a Kg.

In related developments,  the World Food Programme (WFP), in a statement released on  31 July 2020, said, “The Government of Japan  donated a  shipment of canned fish weighing 388 metric tons  worth JPY 300 million (Rs 519 million) to the WFP and the GoSL to meet the protein needs of schoolchildren covered by the national school meal programme.

This consignment isenough to prepare 19 million nutritious meals, rich in protein, for 270,000 schoolchildren. This latest contribution ensures that canned fish will continue to be offered to schoolchildren, for the period 2021-2022, in addition to the previous consignment of canned fish supplied by the Government of Japan,  which will last up to mid next year (2021).”

Vis-à-vis canned fish, a multinational supermarket with branches here, in particular in the Colombo District, had yesterday advertised on its website canned fish, with retail prices ranging from a minimum of Rs 310 to a maximum of Rs 910 for a tin of 425 grams.

But this particular brand of Rs 310 per a tin of canned fish is hardly visible in Colombo, with canned fish readily available at the market commanding price, generally in the range of Rs 850. However, a year ago, the price of a tin of canned fish weighing 425 grams was a mere Rs 475, a 79 per cent (Rs 375) increase since.

Meanwhile, UNICEF, in a press release filed last Friday (26 August), said, “There are already over 10,000 children in institutional care in Sri Lanka, mainly as a result of poverty. Such institutions are not the best place for a child to grow up in, as they lack the bond of a family. Unfortunately, the current crisis is pushing more and more families to take their children to these institutions as they cannot afford to provide for them, including feeding.”

Finance Minister and President Ranil Wickremesinghe, presenting his Interim 2022 Budget last week, said, “We have directed around Rs. 300 billion out of capital expenditure and less priority spending allocated in the original budget 2022, including the provision of relief to those who are affected by the economic crisis.

The recent increase in the kerosene prices has created difficulties for the owners of small boats which are used in the fishing industry and for those who are in the plantation areas that have no electricity services. I will provide a subsidy for these areas.”

One possible reason for high fish prices is that fishers are not going out to sea due to the dual reasons of high fuel prices, especially kerosene, coupled with the non-availability or scarcity of fuel because of Sri Lanka’s spartan US dollar reserves to import the same.

Therefore, Wickremesinghe’s first, second and third priorities should be to alleviate the sufferings of the poor at this critical stage, which, however lacksvisibility at ground level despite all the sanctimonious talk.