New research confirms that fishermen continue to be losers in the traditional fish marketing system in which middlemen still hold the sway, pocketing between 24 and 32 per cent of the consumer price.

The money earned by middlemen, as percentage of consumer price, varies depending on the type of fish. Marketing margin for seer fish is 28 per cent; it is 24 per cent for tuna; 29 per cent for pomfret; 26 per cent for mullet; 30 per cent for mackerel and 32 per cent for oil sardine.

The price spread — the difference between the actual price received by fishermen for their catch and the price paid by consumers — vary widely, research by scientists at the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI) showed.

The price spread was as high as Rs. 128 on a kg of seer fish for which the consumer paid Rs. 425 a kg. Oil sardine, which commanded a retail price of Rs. 50 a kg during the study period, saw a price spread of Rs. 20. Other common varieties of fish saw varying price spread. It was Rs 29 a kg for tuna; Rs. 94 for a kg of pomfret; Rs. 44 for a kg of mullet and Rs. 34 for a kg of mackerel.

The study, done during 2011-12 at Munambam and Cochin (Thoppumpady) harbours, also shows that wholesale buyers don’t incur significant expenditure between the first sale and the second where fish is sold to retailers. The expenditure between the first and second points of sales comprises the labour charge of Rs. 0.95 for a kg of fish, which also requires Rs. 0.50 for ice and icing charges and Rs. 1.50 for transport.

Auction charges

Fishermen also pay through the nose in traders’ discount and auction charges, which amount to about 16 per cent of the landing centre price. The study showed that the landing centre price of seer fish was Rs. 350 a kg whereas the fishermen received only Rs. 297.

Researchers point out that the practice of fishermen willingly foregoing a portion of the auction price of the catch (lelakkizhiv) is prevalent in some of the fisheries harbours in State, including the ones in Ernakulam district.

However, the practice of paying the fishermen less than the auction price has assumed the nature of a convention in landing centres like Kalamukku, Munambam and Cochin with the percentage being fixed at 13 per cent.

The landing centre price and the actual payment received by fishermen vary with fish types. Fishermen get only Rs. 51 for a kg of tuna against the landing centre price is Rs. 60; for pomfrets the price received is Rs. 195 against the landing centre price of Rs. 225 per kg; for mullet it is Rs. 85 and Rs. 100; for mackeral it is Rs. 66 and Rs. 78 and for sardine it is Rs. 30 and 35 a kg.

Marine fish production in the country has jumped from 0.53 million tonnes in 1950-51 to 3.32 million tonnes in 2010. Between 70 and 80 per cent of the fish landings is sold in the domestic market.

While the lack of infrastructure at fish landing centres was one of the reasons why fishermen still failed to get the money worth their catch, the new trend of exporting what were earlier considered low-value fish had helped create a bigger market for varieties like ribbon fish, said a researcher in fisheries economics.

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