Future of Sri Lanka is fisheries and tourism | Daily News

Future of Sri Lanka is fisheries and tourism

Local canned fish industry at crossroads
Fisheries industry is a huge, lucrative business but it must be regulated
A major section of the population makes a living by fishing. File photo
A major section of the population makes a living by fishing. File photo

The Government must pay more attention to the fisheries sector and provide fishermen with new boats and sea water cooling systems under a concessionary scheme to improve the catch and introduce a monitoring mechanism to end illegal fishing methods and more funds should be allocated to the Fisheries Ministry, opined Sri Lanka Canned Fish Manufacturers’ Association President Shiran Fernando.

When interviewed by the Daily News he said their association now produces in excess of the local daily requirement of 250,000 canned fish tins and also plans to export canned fish products. He said the Government today is helping the local canned fish industry and recently increased the duty on a kilo of imported canned fish by Rs. 100 and Fisheries Minister Douglas Devananda and Fisheries Ministry Secretary Indu Ratnayake have been cooperative and helpful towards their endeavours.

Although petrol, diesel and electricity prices have gone up, fishermen cannot complain that much as the industry pays them higher prices for their catch, he said.

Sri Lanka Canned Fish Manufacturers’ Association President Shiran Fernando. Pictures by Wimal Karunathilake

“Those days I used to buy Linna fish for canning at Rs. 95 to Rs. 100 a kilo. Today I pay Rs. 490 to Rs 500 a kilo. Although fishermen complain saying that kerosene and petrol have gone up so has the price of fish and their income.”

He insisted that if anybody wanted to import they should be allowed to do so, but the country must make some money by increasing the duty, especially if the item is manufactured in Sri Lanka. “Every container of canned fish imported into the country is one container of unemployment for the country’s people because the can, labour and the fish were all from abroad.” The country should not import finished items unless it is absolutely necessary and the reason that the country has come to this situation is because everything was imported including said canned fish. However today they were manufacturing over 100% of the local canned fish requirement in Sri Lanka and their target was now to export.

The Government is giving a discounted price to import raw fish for the canned fish industry which was very good because when you get the raw fish and process it here, the label, can and labour is from Sri Lanka and that gives more than 70% value addition to the product. Fernando said one has to encourage the industry to grow and when there’s fish in Sri Lanka one must not allow people to import raw fish and when there is no fish in Sri Lanka one must allow people to import raw fish, and somebody must look at this properly and not in an ad hoc manner.

He said in the beginning nobody thought that canned fish could be manufactured in Sri Lanka, but today they were manufacturing 350,000 cans per day at half capacity and if they manufacture at full capacity there would be too many cans in the country.

Shiran Fernando with Fisheries Minister Douglas Devananda at Oravil Harbour

Fernando said the country has not given enough importance to the fisheries industry. He questioned whether there was any country between Sri Lanka and the South Pole? It is all sea but the country was not making use of it. The industry must be developed and more trawlers brought into the country. He questioned, although surrounded by the ocean, if the country had a proper fishing trawler or mega trawler building factory.

“Our fishing methods are old and unproductive so we must use new modernized technology for fishing, and improve fish farming.” He said the fisheries industry must be turned into like the garment industry.

“For instance, if there is no fish in Sri Lanka, we must import fish, add value and sell it to some other country. It doesn’t matter as long as we are doing some value addition. For instance, Thailand is importing tuna from everywhere, canning it and re-exporting it. That should be encouraged in Sri Lanka as well. However this must be monitored. Now you take the canning industry today, there are 17 canning factories and except for the ones in our association others have no standards. But the authorities are not doing anything about it and the unregulated factories are putting rubbish into the market, so they are bringing down the standard of the others. This fisheries industry is a huge, lucrative business. But it must be regulated. You take the tuna industry today. All the tuna factories are in trouble because there is no proper regulation, I could come with my tuna to your factory and tell you to can for me. You have the license and you can, but nobody regulates it. You can and give it to me and I start selling them cheap. This is happening in the canned fish industry now and if no regulatory and monitoring measures are introduced this industry will collapse as well.”

He said when they try to import fish people try to block them saying that there is arsenic in the fish but nowhere in the world is fish checked for arsenic because fish has arsenic but it is organic arsenic which causes no harm to the body. But when canned fish are imported from China, all they do is check whether it’s fit for human consumption. Fernando said he was paying millions yearly to the Sri Lanka Standards Institution to regulate the factory. But illegal canned fish companies who did not pay one cent were allowed to carry on. He questioned how he was going to compete with them.

With regard to the now defunct Oluvil harbour although there were delays he said they have almost finalized the contract now to operate the cold storage there. He said the Oluvil harbour was very important because it stands between Trincomalee and Galle harbours and if this is developed it would be immensely beneficial to the East Coast and the Government must spend money to develop the harbour.

Fernando said he plans to collect the fish in the area and store it and set up a canned fish factory there. Due to the 30 year war nobody has been fishing in the East Coast and once Oluvil starts functioning, the entire East Coast will get operational which is a huge advantage. “If there’s a storm, and a boat from Trincomalee gets caught in the storm it has nowhere to go. Oluvil is midway. You can find shelter. But the Government must develop it. I have taken over the cold storage and I will run that. But in order for the harbour to operate they must dredge and clear it. I did it and showed it to them. I opened the harbour for a few days by cleaning the harbour mouth, they said OK, we’ll bring the ships but not much has happened so far. I spent about Rs 15 million just for that job. Oluvil which can be used for both fisheries and commercial purposes is a built harbour which is not being utilized for 12 years because of sand filling. Why do you think the Japanese Government gives dredges, because harbours have to be dredged. Only natural harbours need not be dredged.”

The Government must look at the fisheries sector with lot more attention because the future of this country is fisheries and tourism, he said.

“Those two we have to spearhead if we want to come out of this right now. For instance other countries’ waters are overfished but in our waters fish are dying of old age. We’re not exploiting. The East Coast, for instance, there is one harbour in Trincomalee and the other in the South. But no harbour in the middle of the country.

“We have to modernize the industry. We must have sea water cooling. Now they’re taking ice when going fishing. Seventy five per cent of the fish is spoiled when it comes. If they catch five tons of fish, only one ton is good. Others are sold for dried fish. So the Government must use their brain. There is no value addition in dried fish, so they must let the people import dried fish for now and use the local fish for canning.”

Fernando added that if boats can come into and start unloading fish at Oruvil there will be development for the community in the area, and the entire Ampara district will benefit.


Add new comment