Assurances from the government that the fish that is brought to the State from the East coast and sold in the local markets during the mechanised fishing ban period is free of formalin, doesn’t appear to have convinced the people.
Fish markets across the State wear a deserted look. They are empty of fish and also of customers. The annual ban on mechanised fishing during the first two monsoon months does have this effect, but this year the fear of the fish that comes from across the borders being laced with formalin to preserve it has added to the downslide in the business.
Almost a year after Goa was jolted with the news that a spot test on fish that had been brought from the east coast showed the presence of formalin, the issue has not died down. The promised testing laboratories for the fish have also not been set up as yet, though a check is being kept on the borders and vehicles transporting fish are inspected for violations of the guidelines of the Directorate of Food and Drugs Administration. With the ban keeping Goan trawlers anchored at the jetties, and fish being transported into the State through trucks, a significant number of people appear to have preferred to keep fish off their plates this season, a telling comment on how the assurance given by the government is accepted by the people.
This has led to a dip in the sale and a hike in the price of fish, as quantities of fish in the market are low and the buyers are few. While the Goans who cannot do without their fish have been turning to other dishes to accompany the rice and flavour the curry, those who suffer the most are the fish sellers in the smaller towns and in the villages who are forced to dispose the unsold fish at the end of the day as there is no cold storage facility for them to store it to be sold on another day. The losses to the fish vendors are also forcing the hike in prices, as they seek to make good the loss of the previous day by hiking the price of fish on the next day.
Though the few customers that venture to the fish markets may be digging deep into their pockets to buy whatever fish is available, vendors complain that the margin is low as the quantities that reach the market are limited, so the profits are negligible. It does appear that the formalin scare of 2018 has affected the trade across all sections.
A month into the ban, the fish business is not at the highest, but the fishing trade is already looking ahead to when the ban is lifted and their mechanised crafts can go back into the sea, the quantity that comes to shore increases and the prices return to normal. But what does this tell of the government assurances, especially as vendors have alleged that customers dropped after Opposition MLAs called upon the people to reduce fish intake as the fish coming from across the border had formalin? As a fish vendor herself said, wait till the weather improves, the quantities of fish will increase and the ‘people will not have to worry about formalin’. But for now, that worry exists.
This exposes a trust deficit between the government and the people that does not augur well for the people of the State. The government definitely needs to work on its credibility where formalin in fish is concerned and bridge that gap that now stands exposed and could spill over on to other matters.