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Fish prices in city dip due to ice shortage

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COLD FACT: Price of mackerel has fallen in the Kochi market following the acute shortage of ice.
COLD FACT: Price of mackerel has fallen in the Kochi market following the acute shortage of ice.

K.P.M. Basheer

KOCHI: Fish prices, particularly wholesale prices, have dwindled in Kochi due to shortage of ice used for the cold-storage of fish catch.

The price fall has discouraged many valloms and boats from venturing into the sea as the returns would not meet the cost.

The shortage of ice has mainly hit the prices of fish like mackerel and oil sardines, the so-called poor man’s fish, as their shelf life is shorter. Huge quantities of spoiled fish have been dumped back on the sea.

On Thursday, mackerel was sold at Rs.40-50 a kg and Sardines at Rs.25-30 a kg at many fish markets in the city. A week before, mackerel was priced at Rs.90-100 and sardines at Rs.40-50. Other fish also have registered heavy fall in prices.

But the fall in retail price of fish does not actually reflect the dip in wholesale price. For instance, on Wednesday, the wholesale prices of mackerel fell by 80 per cent and more, which implies that quintals of mackerels were available for just one-fifth or one-sixth of previous week’s price.

The shortage of ice has shot up its price to more than two times. Earlier, one block of ice was sold at Rs.45, but now the price has gone up to Rs.100-120. Moreover, vallom owners say, whatever ice is available is gobbled up by large mechanised boats which go on multi-day fishing and remain at sea for five to seven days.

These boats, they allege, buy 400 to 600 blocks at one go, leaving hardly anything for the valloms.

The shortage of ice is blamed on load-shedding, the hike in power tariff and the erratic power supply. Though the LT (low-tension) power-consuming ice plants have been exempted from power cut, they are hit by the half-hour load-shedding and unannounced power shutdowns.

Ice plant owners say they need 12 hours of continuous, ‘good quality’ power to make ice blocks. Since the load-shedding and frequent unannounced shutdowns play havoc with ice formation, they were unable to meet the fishing industry’s demand.

The recent imposition of power surcharge has made ice-making uneconomical, and many ice plants were now producing much below their capacities.

It is pointed out that the ice crisis was in the making for a long time. Though there are some 220 registered ice plants in Kochi, only a fraction of them are in operation now.

Shortage of workers, fluctuating price, poor quality but costly power and a host of other ills have hit the industry.

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