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Commerce Ministry fishes for biz

Jun 07, 2007 06:57 PM IST Business Business

Mumbai: India's sea food exports have risen by $500 million in the last four years - a growth scaled in the previous 10 years. At a little under $2 billion, that's a fraction of India's total exports of $125 billion.

But sea food exports are hugely job generating, employing about 3 million people. About 55 per cent of those exports are of shrimp alone and that has the Commerce Ministry worried.

Says Minister Of State, Commerce, Jairam Ramesh, "To reduce dependence on shrimp, a major initiative for promotion of tuna is coming up and is located in the Andaman and Nicobar islands.

The other initiative is to increase value addition, currently at a measly 15 per cent.

An effort is also on to increase the size of seafood exports. For that to happen, more shrimp will have to be exported, but disease stands in the way.

So the Andaman islands will be declared a bio-safety zone for rearing of pathogen-free root stock or mother shrimp. And as Europe, India's largest buyer of sea food, turns increasingly finicky about healthy, India will turn organic too, beginning with India's southern most state - Kerala.

"The goal is to make Kerala totally organic in the next five years," says Jairam Ramesh.

The interesting aspect about seafood exports is the revival of the Japanese market and the emergence of China as a big buyer.

Indian sea food exporters have a lot of spare capacity. One idea is to process imported fish for exports but the move has been stalled by a fear that it will find it way to the domestic market and eat into the livelihood of local fisher folk. So it is a toss up between shrimp and tuna.