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[LAHORE] Research into marine fisheries will form part of a plan to improve Pakistan's fisheries sector, following a ban on its exports by the European Union (EU) in February 2007.

The ban was imposed when EU inspectors observed that offshore fishing and onshore handling of the catch was conducted in an unhygienic way.

The Pakistani government has launched several initiatives to boost the sector, including stock surveys, upgrading fishing vehicles and training fishermen.

Muhammad Hayat, the country's fisheries development commissioner, told SciDev.Net that the government has launched three marine research 'megaprojects'.

The first of these is a stock survey, to be carried out along Pakistan's coastline. The survey, which will cost 495 million Pakistani rupees (US$6.14 million), will estimate the size and composition of stock to aid proper management of fisheries.

Hayat told SciDev.Net that the major gap in current marine research is the discontinuation of stock and biological assessment of marine fish. The last survey was conducted around 15 years ago, he says, adding, "We have no exact idea how much fish is available in our waters and what their distribution is species-wise."

The other two megaprojects are the establishment of a US$4.5 million training centre in Gwadar, Balochistan, to equip fishermen with the latest quality control skills, and a US$25 million Aquaculture and Shrimp Farming Project running from 2007 to 2012.

Clearance from EU inspectors based on the desired improvements in sanitary requirements could lead to the recommencement of Pakistani fisheries exports to South Asia.

EU representative Manuel Martinez Blasco, who visited the Karachi fish harbour on 30 October, noticed considerable improvements on this front. But he has asked the authorities to do more to get the ban reversed.

Pakistan's fisheries industry is worth about US$1.2 billion annually, with exports worth about US$200 million. In addition to around 185,000 fishermen, another 600,000 people are estimated to rely directly or indirectly on the fishing industry for their livelihood.

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