Herald: Slack tourism season, formalin issue hurt fish business in Goa

Slack tourism season, formalin issue hurt fish business in Goa

18 Feb 2019 04:03am IST

Report by
Ajit John

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18 Feb 2019 04:03am IST

Report by
Ajit John

Leave a comment

The dramatic drop in the number of tourists coming to the State has had an effect on other industries like the fishing industry which sold a healthy percentage of its catch to the hospitality industry. Other issues that afflict the industry have not helped matters. Ajit John takes a look at the situation on the ground

It is the most important part of any Goan meal. Its presence or absence can decide the atmosphere around the table. It is of course fish that one is talking about. It has dominated conversation in the State for much of the last couple of months. 

This reporter decided to just check the temperature of the business given the state of the tourism business. Hotels in Goa purchase a substantial percentage of the fish every day. Now with the industry experiencing a dramatic slump has it affected business for the fishing community. Or has the cyclical nature of the business ensured that prices have stayed at a level, leaving the fishmonger and the trawler owner happy. 

At the wholesale market at Margao, the action commences around 3 O’clock or slightly later when the first catch comes in. Wholesalers buy and sell in the same market which can be a bit odd to any believer in fair play. When the kingfish was displayed it was sold to the wholesaler for Rs 800 per kilo who then retailed it for Rs 1000 per kilo within twenty minutes of buying the fish from the trawler owner. Business was buzzing that night like several nights despite the shadow of formalin over the trade. 

That was then but now in February fish is being brought in from places as diverse as Ratnagiri, Devgadh, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat. The prices in the market have increased and the cost of the fish brought in from other states depend on the prices commanded by the local catch. If the local catch is going for Rs 600 per kilo, then the imported stock will be sold at Rs 550 per kilo. A frequent half truth told to interested customers by those retailing fish from out of the State is that some of their stock was picked locally. 

A young entrepreneur in the business said “The local stock is fresh, a few hours old and is without any preservatives where as the stock from out station takes a couple of days to reach its destination. The ice used is a few days old, it is important to change the ice after forty-eight hours ideally. So, these retailers spin the yarn of local stock being present too.” 

Now Sardines seem very popular with the paying customer. 

Michael Pereira, chairman, Vasco Fishing Boat Owners Market Co-operative Society said business was very less this season. He then corrected himself and said “life is going on, it is not profitable for everyone. Of the 300 trawlers leaving Vasco not even 50% were making a profit.” He went on to say that cyclones had spoilt the season. In addition to this he said the fear psychosis that had enveloped the people due to the formalin issue did not help matters. 

Speaking about his business, he said due to the dramatic drop in business in the hospitality industry he had to stop operations on one of his three trawlers. Since it was running at a loss and problems with retaining staff, he was forced to stop operating one of the trawlers. The increase in the cost of diesel was a problem and the staff on the boat always wanted an increase of Rs 500-1000 every year which meant an increase in cost of running a trawler. The price of fish he admitted was on a higher side with kingfish retailing at around Rs 650-700 per kilo but the drop-in demand from hotels could be felt.  

Attempts to speak to personnel in hotels did not prove successful though a senior executive who did not want to come on record said that it made absolute common sense to buy less raw materials when the number of guests staying had witnessed a decline. 

For the trawler owners, all the fish caught on one trip is picked up by wholesale agents. Today the rate for sardine is Rs 1400 for 14 kgs which according to the trade is an excellent rate. Big mackerels are selling at Rs 150 per kilo and this is not even the peak season which is usually August, September, October, November and December. 

The trawlers come in every night and the stock is sold out but as one of the trawler owners said the picture was not very bright, once one went below the surface. It was he said an expensive business and the future did not look really bright if one was looking for good healthy profits. 
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