Ban on imported fish


The Assam government’s ban order on fish from other States has brought unholy glee to wholesale and retail sellers of not just fish, but also meat and poultry. It is a sellers’ market at any time, where steep prices are arbitrarily set to make buyers pay through their noses. But currently, prices are rocketing, what with formalin detected in fish samples collected from the Betkuchi wholesale market in Guwahati. Positive reports from the State Public Health lab in the city have set alarm bells ringing, because there is a body of evidence that formaldehyde in formalin is toxic to the human body and causes cancer. Using it as a preservative is forbidden under Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006. So on top of fruits ripened with carbide, vegetables grown with urea and dairy products contaminated with oxytocin, consumers in Assam will now have to reckon with formalin laced fish. Assam imports most of its fish from Andhra Pradesh, and the 10-day ban has sent concerned authorities in that State scrambling, with a government fact finding team and fish trade representatives landing here. After all, the Odisha government too has reportedly ordered testing of fish imported from Andhra, and formalin laced fish have been seized in States like Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Goa. Meanwhile, unscrupulous traders in Assam are flouting the ban and passing off imported fish as ‘local’ varieties; it remains to be seen whether authorities apply strict penalties of fines and jail terms on such rogue traders. Others selling local bhokua, rohu, ari, chital and other fish varieties have straightaway raised prices by Rs 200-500 per kg. Not to be left out of the windfall, meat sellers have ramped up prices of broiler chicken, duck and mutton, while egg is dearer by Rs 2 a pair. Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare Pijush Hazarika has warned traders not to capitalise on the ban, but will they pay heed? This headlong rush to make a fast buck, even when it is unethical or outright illegal, is typical of sellers here. The focus should therefore continue to be on producers, and to have them in greater numbers. Assam has immense fish farming potential to meet all of its market demand estimated at around 3,25,000 tonnes; it is presently unable to meet 7-8 percent of this demand which has to be imported, which in turn translates into outflow of over Rs 3 crore daily from the State. Assam is blessed with abundant water resources in numerous ponds, lakes, swamps, reservoirs and streams, which add up to 4.77 lakh hectares area with potential for farming fish, fish seed and fingerlings. There is a blue revolution initiative by Assam government — the ‘Ponds for All – Fish for All’ scheme aimed at turning the State into a fish exporter. If this is not to remain as another empty slogan on paper, the concerned line departments must be made to work in mission mode. The State needs more fish farmers and happier consumers.