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Despite Heavy Demand, Vizak Tuna Exports Fail To Take Off India, May 21, 13

Facilities and awareness are lacking, says exporter

As motorized boats are observing annual conservation period on the east coast from April 15 to May 31, traditional fishermen are raking in the moolah with big catch of tuna.

Heavy demand for sashimi grade tuna, a culinary delicacy in many countries, notwithstanding its exports from Visakhapatnam, has remained under-explored.

Traditional fishermen catching tuna in catamarans and carrying them in rickshaws and autos for sale to agents for transport to Kerala for consumption there or use it as bait for shark and other fish or export to canning companies is quite common at Jalaripeta and the fishing harbor. Seldom knowing the potential and the demand for sashimi grade tuna fishermen indulge in unhygienic handling and processing. It fetches more in the overseas market when caught and frozen on-board tuna long-liners and airlifted without wasting time.

Surapathi Narsinga Rao, who belongs to a family of tuna-catchers and who owns four mechanized boats, and the first to explore into tuna exports from the city, said that despite the demand, the facilities and the awareness level is lacking.

Australia’s Consul and Trade Commissioner for South India Michael Carter during his last visit to the city told this correspondent that they were ready to extend support for sustainable and commercial fishing of tuna.

Though 50 percent mechanized boats have converted into long-liners, processing and handling facilities are yet to be created. Tuna caught by them is generally auctioned in the fishing harbor. Low grade tuna, known as canning type, fetches around Rs.100 a kg. Agents from Kerala load them into vans by putting them with ice if there is large quantity. If it is available in small quantity they are transported in thermo-coal boxes.

The season begins in November and lasts till February and March. Traditional fishermen venture up to 50 km from the shore to catch tuna. It is mostly climate-centric and more tuna can be caught if there is a good breeze. There are cases where each catamaran has returned to the shore with five medium-size tuna. Mechanized boats slit open the belly of tuna and fill it with ice and stitch it for maintaining its freshness till it reaches processing plants in Chennai and Kochi.