Pilchard and sardines in addition to mackeral
By Suresh Perera
"There are one or two importers who are opposed to the liberalisation of the market which was being artificially inflated by them", the minister said in an interview with the Sunday Island last week.
The cabinet sub committee on cost of living, in response to a cabinet paper submitted by Minister Karunanayake, recently approved the withdrawal of the specification on 60% minimum drained mass on imported canned fish.
The specification imposed under SLS 591 standard permitted only high density fish to be imported. This resulted in jack mackerel of Chilean origin monopolising the market as it was the cheapest variety of canned fish which met the relevant specification.
The consumption of canned fish has shot up as prices of almost all varieties of fresh fish have climbed steadily in the market. According to reports, even kelawallo was sold at around Rs. 300-350 in the retail market last week. Seer fish was around Rs. 500 per kilo.
With the liberalisation of imports, canned fish made out of less dense fish from countries like Thailand and Indonesia will be available in the local market at competitive prices, Karunanayake said.
We are offering a wide choice to the consumer who is free to decide on what he wants to purchase", he explained.
The minister said that Sathosa has already reduced the price of canned fish to Rs. 33/-. "My aim is to further reduce the price to Rs. 29/-". The manager of a Sathosa outlet said the price of canned fish has been reduced to Rs. 33/- from Rs. 35/-.
The minister charged that the Mafia, which earlier manipulated the market artificially, pushed up prices by selling a can of fish for Rs. 75/-. Now some of them have abruptly slashed prices to Rs. 45/-. This was a clear manifestation of the kind of profit they enjoyed and how they controlled the system.
He said that best quality fish is made in the Maldives (with 55% minimum drained mass) which can be sold at a cheaper price. Thailand, the second biggest exporter of canned fish, also offers a top quality which can be imported relatively cheaper for local consumption.
Asked whether the weight-for-weight will remain the same, Minister Karunanayake replied, "yes, the importers are required to state the percentage of drained mass on the labels of the fish cans. The contents also have to be mentioned".
A director of a leading private company importing canned fish, when contacted for comment, referred the Sunday Island to its consultant director who declined comment, but promised to ask another director to call back. But the call never came.
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