Vaulting demand in domestic, export markets pushes up price

The price of oil sardines, which continues to define Kerala’s food habits, soared to between Rs. 120 and 140 a kg in the retail market on Thursday, aided largely by what fishermen and marketers said was vaulting demand in both the domestic and export markets.

Even the less favoured variety of ordinary sardines, some of which is imported from Karnataka and Maharashtra, were selling at Rs. 100 a kg, bringing the price of the humble sardines almost at par with that of mackerels, which is placed a notch higher on the food list.

“Fish prices are up 25 to 30 per cent this year compared to last and the price of oil sardines are up about 50 per cent year-on-year,” said an official of Kerala State Cooperative Federation for Fisheries Development (Matsyafed) on Thursday.

He said the purchase price (price at which retailers buy) of the best quality sardines, marked by their rounded shape and fleshy body, had gone up to Rs. 110 a kg. The other variety, marked by their slender body and high density of bones, was being purchased by retailers at prices as high as Rs. 90 a kg.

The purchase price of oil sardines hovered around Rs. 50 a kg last year, said the official, pointing out that there was high demand for the fish in the export market. The best quality mackerels and oil sardines continue to be in great demand wherever there is a substantial Malayali population, especially in the Gulf countries. These fishes are also in demand in Israel and Malaysia.

Oil sardines caught off the coast of Kerala has fuelled export interest and there was actually no visible depletion in landings, said N.G.K. Pillai, former director of the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI) and an expert on pelagic fishes, explaining the current price spiral.

He said his enquiries with the fish marketers and scientists had showed that there was no depletion in sardine landings on Kerala coast.

The quality of sardines being landed on Kerala coast had gone up this month, said the Convenor of Kerala Fisheries Coordination Committee Charles George on Thursday. “The best quality sardines lands in the months of September and October and this fishing season has been marked by high quality sardines,” he said explaining the record sardine prices.

Mr. Pillai said India’s west coast had abundant supply of diatoms, one of the common varieties of phytoplanktons, which is a favourite food for sardines. One of the reasons for the quality of the oil sardines caught off Kerala coast could be their dietary habit, he added. Sardines caught off the coast of Kerala have higher fat content too. Sardines are considered one of the best sources of Omega 3 fatty acids.

The price of mackerels has gone up to Rs. 150 a kg in the retail market, the purchase price for retailers hovering between Rs. 110 and 120 a kg, up from between Rs. 75 and 80 a kg last year.

The seer fish was selling between Rs. 380 and 400 a kg in the retail market. The price has nearly doubled from last year’s levels, thanks largely to poor availability.

Emperor fish, which is in great demand, is selling for Rs. 320 a kg in the retail market now compared to the price of Rs. 220-230 last year. There has also been serious fall in the supplies of varieties like white snapper (vilameen), selling upwards of Rs 240 a kg and trevally (vatta) was selling at more than Rs. 240.

Farmed fish

The Matsyafed official said the high price of sea-caught fish had helped increase the demand for farmed fishes like pangasius (commonly referred to as basa), a variety that is native to the Mekong river in Vietnam. They are now being farmed in India and there is substantial demand now. Besides, hoteliers import large quantities of basa fillets from East Asian countries at affordable rates.

The other varieties of farmed fishes that are sold in Kerala markets include the carp varieties of cutla and rohu, bought largely by the immigrant workers from West Bengal at prices ranging between Rs. 110 and 120 a kg.

Even pearlspots (karimeen) farmed in the Mettoor dam in Tamil Nadu has great demand here and sell for prices ranging between Rs. 300 and 330 a kg.

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