KARACHI: Saudi Arabia has banned shrimp imports from Pakistan, a worrying development for the Marine Fisheries Department (MFD) as other countries may follow suit.
Pakistan exported about 2,016 tonnes of seafood (valued at $7.494 million) to Saudi Arabia, including 189 tonnes of shrimp ($2.175m) in 2015.
The country’s overall annual fish and fish preparations’ exports stand at around 140,000 tonnes, fetching around $350m. The share of shrimp exports is around 12,000 to 14,000 tonnes a year.
The ban came in the wake of information circulated by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) regarding emergence of white spot disease in Pakistani shrimp. However, the MFD suspects misunderstanding as Pakistan has yet to start shrimp farming, and entire catch of shrimp consists of open-sea operations.
The MFD believes that the disease only occurs in cultured shrimp as the white spot virus does not infect wild shrimp.
The department has urged the Fisheries Development Commissioner to approach Saudi Arabian government through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for lifting the ban.
Moreover, the department also seeks identification of the infected consignment, and the exporter who shipped it.
In addition, the ministry may ask the OIE to remove Pakistan’s name from the list of countries where white spot disease in shrimp is found, and try to access the source that reported the occurrence of the disease here.
Last month, the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Islamabad informed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Pakistan that depending on the reports of OIE, the Saudi Food and Drug Authority (SFDA) has noticed the emergence of the disease in Pakistani shrimp.
The SFDA has notified to its inspection authorities for imported food to stop inspection of fresh, chilled or frozen shrimp consignments from Pakistan until stabilisation of health conditions.
However, the followings exports are exempted from the ban: headless and peeled products (except the remains of shrimps including its tail), provided that physical and lab examination of all consignments is performed; processed products ready for direct human consumption (like spiced, ready for grilling, frying or by any method of cooking); and heat-treated products to ensure eradication of viruses as mentioned in the article 3, 6, 9 of Aqua Animal Health Code recommended by OIE.
The Saudi Embassy had asked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to convey the information to all concerned authorities and businesses at its earliest.
Sources said Pakistan experimented aqua culture white shrimps production in Dabheji area in supervision of Fisheries Development Board under the food ministry headed by a leading exporter whose experience in fisheries had been as a marketing agent but non-technical in production of aqua culture.
A consignment was produced and sold to a local processor who, without declaring it as aquaculture shrimps, managed to get health certificate from the MFD which may have also missed out testing as they do it only for shipments to the European Union.
That consignment is apparently believed to have caused the ban on shrimp imports to Saudi Arabia.
During the last two years, India and Thailand also suffered heavily due to the disease caused by mismanagement.