For more than a month now, fish markets across India’s northeastern states have worn a deserted look. Wholesale traders and retailers in these states, particularly Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya and Nagaland, have been reporting massive losses ever since Assam imposed a ban on fish from Andhra Pradesh which were found to contain traces of ‘formalin’.
Over 10,000 tons of fish are imported annually to the state of Assam alone to make up the shortfall in meeting the demand for over 2,50,000 tons.
In neighbouring Manipur, the annual consumption of fish is nearly 52,000 metric tonnes, out of which only 32,000 metric tonnes are the local catch. Nagaland imports over 3,850 metric tonnes of fish every year, to help meet the state’s annual consumption of over 26,000 metric tonnes.
In Meghalaya, 22,000 metric tons of fish are annually imported out of an annual consumption of 30,000 metric tonnes while in Tripura, the annual requirement of fish was 32,823 metric tons, of which 43,280 tons were imported to meet the demand. Mizoram has a relatively low annual consumption rate of 4.1 kg per capita.
Officials from Andhra Pradesh’s Fisheries Department visited Nagaland during July 26-27 and held meetings with their counterparts in Kohima. According to Andhra’s officials, no preservative is being used in packing of fish sent out from the state. They denied claims indicating the use of formalin
Much of the fish and allied products required in these states comes from the coastal state of Andhra Pradesh through the land route. A decent share comes in from West Bengal as well.
Nagaland banned the import of fish beginning in June last week, followed by similar bans in Manipur and Assam. Meghalaya followed suit in mid-July, only to lift the ban after 15 days following tests by the food safety department. Assam went back on its ban decision soon after, followed by Manipur. As of now, only Nagaland is yet to lift the ban officially.
But the damage seems to have been done, as consumers are wary of buying imported fish.
Assam’s Health Minister Pijush Hazarika told mediapersons that monitoring of the imported fish business would continue. Hazarika conceded that a protracted ban on fish imports was not feasible in a state like Assam, where fish is a local delicacy.
Curiously, there have been no report whatsoever of anybody falling ill after consuming the allegedly adulterated fish, even as there has been a huge uproar over the presence of formalin in the imported fish. The food safety departments in the states have been on their toes conducting on-the-spot tests at market places to detect the presence of the poisonous substance. Several of these tests have returned positive results, which have been later overturned at the laboratories.
While the lab has returned negative test results, it is still to be found as to who first floated the rumour of formalin-laced fishes.
Officials from Andhra Pradesh’s Fisheries Department visited Nagaland during July 26-27 and held meetings with their counterparts in Kohima. According to Andhra’s officials, no preservative is being used in packing of fish sent out from the state. They denied claims indicating the use of formalin.
But as traders and transporters from Andhra Pradesh and those in the North-East trade charges, fish sales and consumption have plummeted in the northeast.