It’s a manual assembly line in progress during the post-lunch hour inside Cochin Frozen Food Exports’ (CFFE) Aroor unit. We stumble around in our oversized rubber boots as we wade through an ankle-level froth covering the floor. Dressed in bright pink plastic coats, around 30 women manoeuvre the shop floor with sophisticated ease. Stage one involves fishing out lumps of frozen Vannamei (white) shrimp that lie in huge plastic container trolleys. From there they make their way to a dozen eager hands who dispense the prized catch after peeling and de-veining it in a matter of seconds. They then get dipped into the ice buckets again, before being transported for their final journey. After a cold water bath down the sliding conveyor belt, the shrimp pass through a freezing tunnel and come out looking plump and scrumptious on the other side ready to be packaged in plastic pouches.
Thereafter, whichever marine food processing plant, we visit, we are starved for variety and the production head informs us that with fishermen returning to the seas only in another week, shrimps are all they have currently stocked up on. But, P Dinesh, joint MD and CEO, CFFE, delves further into the issue, “The sea catch from Kerala’s coast has considerably reduced. The Andhra Pradesh government has been actively promoting Vannamei shrimp farming, which is why we have moved to sourcing our raw material from there to continue production. This has added to procurement costs.” India, being the second-largest fish producer in the world after China, accounts for 6% of global fish production. And cultured shrimp account for 70% of the value of total sea food exports of Rs.30,421 crore in FY16.
Dinesh also traces how Kochi has relinquished its place as India’s sea food hub to states such as Gujarat and Andhra which he claims does more business than the southern state in terms of volume and value respectively. Started in 1989, CFFE is a Rs.70 crore-sea food exporter to Europe, US, Japan, China and Vietnam. The company, which sells cuttlefish, octopus, squids, yellowfin tuna and others, has seen sales to Europe, the third-largest destination for Indian sea-food exports, fall from 30% to 10% in the current fiscal. Dinesh points out that one reason is lo