Covid-19 keeps seafood exporters in a bind as orders dry up in key markets

Fresh seafood production in Odisha has screeched to a halt since the lockdown.
The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic has disconcerted Indian seafood exporters, who have been selling $7 billion worth seafood every year in the overseas market.

Shipments to the US, India’s largest market for marine food, are down by over 50 per cent since the outbreak of Covid-19 and the subsequent lockdown. With annual export volumes of 280,000 tonnes, India is the largest shrimp supplier to America, with a 40 per cent share of the latter’s imports by volumes. Also, no fresh orders are forthcoming from other key markets like EU (European Union), Vietnam and Japan while Spain has stopped procurement, a leading exporter said.

“After the outbreak of Coronavirus, we are unable to bag fresh orders from export markets. Seafood exporters are trying to meet the previously contracted orders. Even some of the pre-booked orders are getting cancelled as countries are acting with more caution to contain spread of the contagion”, said an Odisha-based seafood exporter.

Fresh seafood production in Odisha has screeched to a halt since the lockdown announcement as the state authorities have not permitted the operations of processing plants. Only chilling and cold storage facilities are allowed to have a normal run. Besides, the non-availability of ample labour force has idled output. The scenario implies that only previously stockpiled processed marine products could be shipped overseas. However, flagging demand among buyer countries has dampened spirit of exporters.

“It is going to be a very bad year for Indian seafood exporters. Prices are falling as exports have dried up. Demand has contracted among importing countries. The Government of India’s efforts to facilitate exports in this moment of crisis has hit the Covid-19 lockdown wall. Trucks and manpower are not available to transport shipments. Exporters also need paperwork like certification from MPEDA (Marine Products Exports Development Authority)”, said Tara Ranjan Patnaik, founder & Chairman at Falcon Marine Exports Pvt Ltd. The company is the country’s largest exporter of frozen and fresh shrimps with a turnover exceeding Rs 1500 crore.

However, MPEDA has comments for sea food exports to China which has around 13 per cent share in total is sea food export from India, one of fast growing market for india with 13 per cent share.

MPEDA Chairman K S Srinivas said that in China all the buyers have stocked their inventory well in advance to meet the peak demand due to Chinese New Year and new orders are placed usually after the holiday period which lasts till second week of February. After the outbreak of Virus, the exports are sluggish mainly due to lean period.

"The Corona outbreak time is actually a lean period as far exports of seafood are concerned. Once the Coronavirus epidemic is stabilized, we expect the forward movement to continue, especially as the seafood is considered to be a healthy alternative," he said. It is too early to predict the price hike expecting due to lack of availability of Chinese material in international market.

Data APEDA shows that the exports of marine products has been almost flat at $5.89 billion between April, 2019 to January, 2020, as against $5.84 during same period in the previous year.

India recorded a production of 618,000 MT for L vannamei variety of shrimp during 2018-19. L vannamei production from April to December 2019 was 0.610 million tonnes and estimated to cross last year's production figures.

The shrimp supply situation from India is promising and is anticipated to cross the previous year export figures, MPEDA said.

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