The annual fishing ban has begun. There are also several restrictions on import of fish into Goa. Where is the Goan going to get his fish from?
Who is going to confirm that it is fit for consumption? For the Goans who cannot do without their daily piece of fish, these are questions that could haunt them for the next two months. The current status is that there are several restrictions on the import of fish into the State from other States, where the importers have to meet several guidelines. Only fish imported from the neighbouring districts of Goa, from Vengurla, Malwan, Ratnagiri and Karwar, have been excluded from the guidelines.
Fish during the ban period came from the East coast, from Odisha and Andhra Pradesh, as much of the West coast had imposed fishing bans of varying duration. With the restrictions in place, and given the experience of last year, will the fish purchased in the local market be safe to eat, is a question that is worrying Goans across the State.
There has been enough time to set up the fish testing laboratories. The issue flared up on July 12, last year after an FDA official raided trucks at the Margao wholesale fish market bringing fish from other States. The spot tests carried out on the fish samples had revealed the presence of formalin but the same samples sent to the FDA lab for testing showed that formalin was within permissible limits. Promises made since then to set up a state of the art laboratory for testing have remained just assurances. Even early this year, a minister had confirmed that financial approval had been given for the testing facility at the Margao market. There is no such laboratory, there is only a sub-office of the Export Inspection Agency that has been inaugurated. The agency was to monitor the quality of fish being imported.
Until July last year, Goans bought fish from the market without batting an eyelid, never bothering to question the freshness of the fish. They were aware that the fish during the fishing ban season was brought from outside the State, but believed that adequate precautions had been taken to ensure that the fish was safe to eat. But the fish import business has remained unregulated from ages, and there were no quality checks or testing that was undertaken. The formalin in fish scare changed this, and stringent measures introduced. It will not be advisable to dilute these, so in the absence of the promised laboratory what are the options in ensuring that the fish that lands in the markets of the State is formalin free?
It wouldn’t do to dilute the restrictions that have been imposed on the import of fish that is effectively bringing an end to the illegal transportation of fish from other States. The action has been well with the law, so any move to amend it would merely serve to benefit the fish traders. It is the people who matter and whose interests must be kept above that of all others. Any move to weaken the guidelines will only lead to the doubts resurfacing.
To queries from Herald on the measures to ensure quality and safe fish during the ban, the Food and Drugs Administration Director said she would inform us later. Have ten months not been long enough to come up with a system to ensure the quality of fish? It is apparent that like all else has been pushed forward in the last year, this testing lab too has met the same fate. The lack of governance has not spared this aspect too. It is not just the possibility of fish that is preserved in formalin, but a governemnt that is incapacitated by it too.