Indian seafood industry is afraid that the European Union may introduce some restrictions on imports from the country ahead of the visit of an expert team from EU for audit of seafood units in November. Some even fear a ban.
Though the visit of EU delegation is a biennial feature, this time it has assumed significance due to rejection of a few Indian seafood consignments of farmed shrimps by EU countries in the last one year mainly because of detection of antibiotics residues.
“Europe unlike other countries has zero tolerance limit for antibiotics,” said Kenny Thomas, a seafood exporter and former vice president of Seafood Exporters Association of India (SEAI). “They have raised the scale of sampling from 10% to 50% in the last six months, which could be the reason for more rejections,” he said.
“A ban is not tenable under the WTO laws,” Thomas said. “What we fear is that they may go for 100 % sampling.”
Europe accounts for around 18% of India’s annual marine products exports, which touched nearly Rs 38,000 crore in 2016-17.
The exotic species of Vannamei shrimp grown in farms has been driving India’s seafood exports in the last few years. India’s Vannamei shrimp production is set to touch around 5.5 lakh tonnes this fiscal, up by over 20% from last year, encouraged by good prices in the global market.
Cultured shrimps account for close to 70% of the value of the seafood exports from India.
Thomas said the quality check mechanisms installed by Indian authorities are adequate.
S Muthukaruppan, past president of Society of Aquaculture Professionals, said Vannamei shrimp production could even touch about 7 lakh tonnes this fiscal “if there are no problems” due to increase in area under shrimp farms in Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Odisha and Gujarat.
More than 50% of fish farms are in Andhra Pradesh.
Industry insiders said the rise in the number of farms may have led to quality issues as some farmers may have used antibiotics that are not in the approved list.
“Many farmers are illiterate and they could have used sub-standard products,” said L Satyanarain, president of All India Shrimp Hatcheries Association. “EU may be arguing for standardisation of inputs,” he said.
A section of exporters, however, feel that the ban threat could be nothing but an arm-twisting tactic by EU. “They could be building up a case for opening up of Indian economy for their products from food and diary sector,” said Norbert Karikkassery, national treasurer of Seafood Exporters Association of India.
The US is the largest buyer of Indian seafood with a share of 30%, followed by Southeast Asia with nearly the same share.
Stringent standards have forced many exporters to slow down consignments to EU. Ecuador is a major seafood exporter to EU.