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Wednesday, Mar 20, 2002

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Agri-Biz & Commodities - Aquaculture


Cut their losses? No way!

C.J. Punnathara

Seafood exporters have realised that the compendium of fangled terminology can be a double-edged sword. The customs cut refers to an irregularly-shaped triangle piece from a block of frozen fish. The Customs Department enforces other venal cuts against which the exporters grumble, yet pay up reluctantly.

KOCHI, March 19

THE Americans have dealt the unkindest cut of them all, the American cut. In seafood exporters' parlance, the term refers to fish portions or fillets with tapering or bevelled edges.

But huddling over weekend cocktails, exporters snidely refer to the Yankee aversion for import of value-added products into the US market as the American cut. Specific aspersions are cast on the decade-old feud over cooked shrimp export to the US market.

With butterflies fluttering in their tummy, they continue to export value-added butterfly fillets and butterfly shrimps to the US and European markets.

Exporters are mortally scared of the Aberdeen cut. Though the reference is to a rhombus-shaped cut of fish, the resident export community ascribe it to the place of origin, Aberdeen in Scotland.

The exporters allude to the miserly conduct of several importing countries, which reject shipments on quality grounds, and then queue up for the same product when the consignment goes on distress sale in neighbouring ports.

Battered by these gruesome cuts, most exporters suffer from belly burns as do some of the fish that they export. Belly burns is the condition when rib bones of the fish protrude into the belly cavity, exposing soft flesh.

Cutting aside the lexicon of fine words, the importers charge that such consignments are neither fresh, wholesome or hygienic: a charge which Indian exporters are sometimes guilty of.

Only recently have the exporters realised that the compendium of fangled terminology can be a double-edged sword. The customs cut refers to an irregularly-shaped triangle piece from a block of frozen fish. The Customs Department enforces other venal cuts against which the exporters grumble, yet pay up reluctantly.

Then there is the J-Cut, which several Indian exporters have been unable to fathom. It is trimming a fillet, removing both the nape and pinbones, whatever that means.

Exporters are unanimous that J is the most expensive cut of them all because Japan, the biggest market for Indian seafood, has been cut down to size and export has shrunk to all-time lows.

Charting the perilous course of international markets, the Indian exporter with meaty bones alone has survived, while export volumes have shrivelled to bits and bites. Yet, the exporter continues to pursue his dream of value-addition: from boned to boneless fish, battered and shredded fish. Bits and bites of breaded crustaceans.

As seafood exports have been taking cuts from all sides - American, Japanese and European - the uric acid levels in the export community have breached safety levels. Fishermen wash their hands clean, saying the problem is with the processors and not the producers.

After the recent Supreme Court order on contribution to the Fishermen's welfare fund, some fishermen have volunteered to bleed the seafood exporters, like they do the large and meaty tuna, skates and shark to remove uric acid. Exporters have been firm but polite in response: "No, thank you!"

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