Corona sends fish prices skyrocketing

In the wake of rumours about consumption of chicken and mutton amid the coronavirus scare across the country, sea-food prices have suddenly skyrocketed in the city and surroundings areas in the past one week.

Both freshwater and sea fish — procured from rivers, inland fisheries, or the Arabian Sea and the creeks dotting the Maharashtra coast – have been hit badly as prices have shot up by an average 50-60 per cent in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region.

This is having serious repercussions on the cost of fish items served by specialized ‘sea-food restaurants’ and regular eateries where it is one of the options, though prices have not been hiked so far.

Akhil Maharashtra Machhimar Kriti Samit President Damodar Tandel attributes many reasons for the price rise which has got compounded due to the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

“Monsoon 2019 got extended on the Konkan coast with very rough weather, besides the massive floods in several districts last year. Since Diwali, the usual catch has sunk because of LED lights used by big trawlers and purse seine nets,” rued Tandel.

The ‘Bhai Bhandarkar Maha Machimar Vishwastanidhi Trust’ Chairman Vijay Bhandarkar said that for the past two years, the fishermen are in the same predicament as the farmers of Maharashtra due to various reasons.

“First, the Oil and Natural Gas Commission keeps expanding and encroaching upon fishing territories. Second, the maritime traffic in the Arabian Sea has gone up considerably since it’s a key global route and all vessels discharge their wastes here,” Bhandarkar told IANS.

Added to this is the massive pollution near the coastal areas with untreated sewage discharged from major cities or towns on the entire coastal Maharashtra, besides Gujarat and Karnataka which has driven away marine life.

“According to our estimates, the catch has dwindled by more than 70 per cent, the costs remain constant, so prices go up accordingly. This has also hit exporters of fish, plus the dry fish market which is extremely popular among the people in coastal regions,” Bhandarkar explained.

A fisherwoman from Andheri market said that in the past 10 days or so, retail fish prices have zoomed by more than 40 per cent and are shunned by potential customers.

“Medium-sized pomfrets pair sells for around Rs 1,200-Rs 1,400, small-sized Bombay Duck and mackerels go for Rs 200-Rs 300 per portion. Surmai and ‘ravas’ have virtually disappeared or command price of Rs 700-1,000, and prawns between Rs 500-Rs 800 per portion, depending on size,” said fisherwoman Gauri Patil.

“Freshwater fish like Rohu and Katla also sell between Rs 250-Rs 400 per kg as per size, making it unaffordable. It’s difficult to source fish from the wholesale markets where they are ‘booked’ by hotels and restaurants,” said Dahisar housewife Priyanka Gowale.

On the other hand, poultry business suffers due to rumours, which has pushed customers to consume sea food.

A Kandivali poultry seller Jabbar Shaikh said that owing to the rumours over coronavirus, videos of culling of hens and chicks at various places, unfounded fears have been created in public mind, leading to a sharp drop in demand for fresh chicken and eggs.

“Retail sales have plummeted by as much as 60 per cent and even prices have come down by 50 per cent. Until the coronavirus scare goes away, customers won’t come back,” lamented Shaikh.

For instance, chicken prices hover around Rs 100, down from Rs 220, but there are few takers as people consciously opt for fresh or frozen sea food.

Tandel and Bhandarkar say there are around 20,000 big and small fishing boats and trawlers which operate on the state’s coast off Mumbai, Thane, Palghar, Sindhudurg, Ratnagiri and Raigad, besides a few in the local rivers, dams, lakes and other water bodies.

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