Kochi: India wants to increase its exports of tuna, the third-most traded seafood in the world after shrimps and squids, and cuttlefish and the like, by around 18%—from 16,670 tonnes to a little less than 20,000 tonnes—in an effort to grow its seafood exports. It also wants to improve the quality of tuna exports, and hopes that the 18% increase in volume will translate into an almost 84% increase in revenue—from $18 million (Rs79 crore then) in 2005-06 to $33 million (Rs138 crore then) in 2006-07. By 2010, the Marine Products Export Development Authority (MPEDA), the government-run export promotion body for the seafood trade in India, hopes to increase tuna exports to $500 million.
Kuruvilla Thomas, director of MPEDA, said tuna exports account for a very small part of India’s $1.8 billion seafood exports now, but he added that this number would grow. India’s chances to grow its presence in the global tuna trade have improved because competitors such as Thailand and Indonesia are exiting the business, according to Dominic Sebastian, a tuna exporter who runs Lourde Exports. Indian exporters are now looking to buy mechanized boats with freezing facilities from Indonesia, he added.
Unlike other fish, tuna needs dedicated long fishing lines that can stretch down 50 metres into the sea. MPEDA has already given licences to 150 boats that will be converted to mechanized vessels for deep- sea tuna fishing; and another 300 will be converted by the end of this year. By 2010, India could have 1,000 boats with an average annual catch of 90 tonnes, resulting in a total output of 90,000 tonnes.
Once caught, tuna has to be immediately frozen. Any change in temperature alters the colour of the temperature-sensitive fish and its quality. Mishandling of the catch is a major problem, and MPEDA is undertaking training programmes for the fishermen. In India, tunas are kept on ice, and once they are brought to the shore after a fortnight, they are immediately processed and exported.
Around 40% of the tuna caught in India is gilled and gutted, and exported immediately, mainly to Japan. Eaten raw, it fetches around $15-18 a kg. Another 40% is frozen, processed and treated, and exported later, fetching between $8 and $10. The remaining, which nets $3-4 a kg, is used for manufacturing pet food.
India has been, for the past few years, exporting tuna in frozen form to canneries at very low prices—around $1 a kg—as the quality of the catch is poor. Tuna can fetch in the range of $4-20 per kg. But high air freight rates are also affecting tuna exports.