The fishing industry is worried over the exorbitant rates announced by the GST Council on ropes and nets used by various types of boats. If the GST is not exempted to them after conceding their demand to accord agriculture status to the fisheries industry, all those depending on livelihood will be driven out of their jobs, stakeholders in the sector say. India clocked a seafood export turnover of Rs. 37,870 crore with Visakhapatnam itself accounting for highest export business amounting to about Rs. 7,500 crore. Vannamei (white-leg shrimp) during 2016-17, an exotic species being bred by aqua farmers has become most sought-after for its taste and low cost.
An estimated 750 mechanised boats and 250 beach landing vessels are operated from the Fishing Harbour. The operators have been complaining of poor returns post-Hudhud due to dwindling catch and high operational cost.
Belying their hopes the GST Council did not respond to their pleas to exempt them from GST. Now fishermen have to cough up a tax of 12% from nil on ropes and nets. On monofilament rope used by tuna long-liners, which is in high demand, the tax has been enhanced from seven to 18%.
Wire rope which is used by tying the boats to the shore will now attract 18% from zero tax.
“We are already hit hard as the diesel cost has gone manifold. Of 24 exporters who have auction centres at the fishing harbour, only five are picking up shrimp caught by us for exporters as others are only buying Vannaemi,” regrets AP Mechanised Boat Operators’ Association president P.Ch. Appa Rao.
The demand for according agriculture status to fisheries is being renewed by the fishing associations after Union Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman almost rejected it during her last visit to the city. If the status is accorded, income from fisheries will get exempted from income tax and other taxes. Marine Products Exports Development Authority has predicted a good growth of exports during the current fiscal.
It has also embarked upon a campaign to sensitise farmers to reorient their focus from shrimp-centric approach to alternative species like ornamental fish, crab, lobster and tuna ton raise their income level.