Mangaluru: The ongoing power crisis in coastal Karnataka is taking a toll on the fishing community as ice production, vital for preserving the freshness of the catch, hits an unprecedented low. This crisis, exacerbated by a decline in power production and uneven distribution, particularly affects the districts of Dakshina Kannada, Uttara Kannada, and Udupi.
Impact of Power Crisis on Ice Production
Since August, ice plants along the coast have been operating at only 30% of their capacity due to frequent power outages. For example, a 150-tonne ice plant is now producing a mere 45 tonnes daily. The reduced ice availability is forcing fishermen to sell low-value varieties like mackerel, sardine, and pink perch at significantly lower prices.
Lost Opportunities and Economic Impact
The inability to preserve the catch properly results in missed opportunities for value addition and export. For instance, a substantial portion of the record oil sardine catch this year ended up in fishmeal factories instead of processing units. Without adequate ice, the nutritional value of the catch diminishes, leading to lower market prices.
Fishmeal Production Challenges
Fishmeal producers report an influx of spoiled fish due to ice shortages. The lack of proper storage and damage during unloading contribute to significant losses. Fishmeal factories are flooded with waste fish, affecting the quality of the final product. Despite challenges, these factories continue producing nutrient pellets for shrimp farms, which require less power.
The coastal districts are home to over 14 lakh fishermen community members, heavily reliant on the fishing industry. The power crisis affects half of the 165 ice plants in the region, impacting the livelihoods of 4.5 lakh seafaring fishermen and the supporting workforce.
Operational Challenges for Ice Plants
Power outages lasting four hours daily have disrupted ice production schedules. Ice plants require a minimum of six hours of uninterrupted power to produce blocks of various sizes. Diesel generators are not financially viable due to thin profit margins. Each ice plant, requiring an investment of Rs 35 to 50 lakh, faces challenges in breaking even, especially in the face of persistent power issues.
Hygiene Concerns and Fish Quality
Inconsistent power supply leads to non-uniform ice formation, allowing microbes to thrive and contaminate the fish. While export houses receive quality ice at higher prices, local transporters and storage units receive second-grade ice, impacting the shelf life of the catch. Hygienic handling is crucial for complying with international standards, and the degradation of ice quality poses risks to the processed product.
Expert Opinions and Recommendations
Experts emphasize the importance of abundant ice production at the first point of capture to maintain the freshness of the fish catch. The quality and quantity of ice used become crucial, especially for fishing vessels remaining at sea for extended periods. Authorities stress the need for stable power supply to ensure the hygienic handling of fish, considering the stringent standards of international markets.
In conclusion, the power crisis in coastal Karnataka has far-reaching consequences on the fishing industry, impacting livelihoods, value addition, and the quality of fish products. The timely resolution of power issues is essential to safeguard the economic interests and well-being of the coastal communities.