Regulating Coastal Aquaculture in India
By Aditya Dash
If we want our regulators to do better, we have to embrace a simple idea: regulation isn’t an obstacle to thriving free markets; it’s a vital part of them. – James Surowiecki
Coastal Aquaculture in India is predominantly export-oriented. One can safely make the claim that 99 per cent of coastal aquaculture production consists of farming shrimp, which in turn are exported across the world. Frozen shrimps are subject to non-tariff barriers and stringent food safety norms at importing countries. In order to effectively regulate and monitor the shrimp value chain, we need to focus on regulating the shrimp farms and shrimp hatcheries.
The two main issues that hinder the exports of shrimps from India are the use of banned antibiotics and the presence of shrimp pathogens such as the White Spot Syndrome Virus (WSSV). In order to effectively eliminate such barriers, we need a holistic approach. The entire value chain needs to be effectively regulated and more importantly, these regulations need to be enforced. The way things stand now, the bulk of the regulatory scrutiny and inspections are overwhelmingly on the processing units and not enough on the farming and hatchery units.
As per the Coastal Aquaculture Authority Act of 2005, the Coastal Aquaculture Authority (CAA) under the Ministry of Agriculture is responsible for regulating coastal aquaculture activities. Perhaps, with the creation of the new Ministry of Fisheries, an amendment is required and CAA should come under the Union Ministry of Fisheries. One can also analyse how many licences of farms and hatchery units have been suspended due to the presence of antibiotics at these units. The numbers simply don’t correlate to the number of rejections in the import countries of North America and the European Union. Even other issues such as tackling the various shrimp-related aquaculture diseases are not being given the attention they deserve. This is causing a huge economic loss and adversely impacting the weakest link in the shrimp value chain, the smallholder farmer.
There have been good examples of coordination such as Andhra Pradesh’s Antibiotic taskforce which involved the CAA, MPEDA, EIA (Export Inspection Agency) and Exporters. They conducted random inspections across the value chain. Perhaps what is needed now is a national level taskforce. This should include both the Union and the State Government agencies. Also, it should have on board industry bodies such as the Seafood Exporters Association of India, All India Shrimp Hatchery Association and Society of Aquaculture Professionals. At the end of the day for every rejection, it is the Product of India that gets a bad name, not any particular State.
A prospective bold solution could be an amendment to the Coastal Aquaculture Authority Act 2005, and ensure that the CAA comes under the Commerce Ministry. The Commerce Ministry can provide the CAA with the resources to effectively regulate and develop coastal aquaculture in India. Since Commerce Ministry is well versed with the challenges facing shrimp exports, they would have a better idea in tailoring and implementing solutions that will boost exports and thereby generate more employment. Till we regulate the entire value chain, we will continue to battle rejections with one hand tied to our back. The way things stand now, in case a shrimp hatchery is using banned Nitrofuran antibiotics to tackle their Vibrio problems, the farmer and exporter have to suffer since Nitrofuran has a half-life of six months. We also cannot expect individual processing units to solve this problem. The exporters have adjusted by ensuring rigorous testing methods that will match the sensitivity and specificity of the health authorities of importing countries.
MPEDA has launched a certification scheme of hatcheries, farms and processing units. This is a good solution. We cannot just rely on carrots, we need the alternatives of enforcing regulations so that errant players can be penalised. Amending an Act and making this change will not be easy. Shrimp exports is a labour-intensive industry, generating a lot of jobs for women and providing a better source of income for farmers in coastal areas. A significant boost to marine exports can come from effective enforcement of regulations. Here I would like to repeat the findings of Dr Uday Sethi — One hectare of shrimp farming creates 10 jobs. For such a vital industry, let us go the extra mile and make the necessary changes for promoting the industry.
__ The author is an “Authority Member” of Marine Products Export Development Authority. He is also Managing Director of Ram’s Assorted Cold Storage Ltd, the seafood exports division of Suryo Group. He is passionate about aquaculture and writes frequently on it.