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Abstract: Fishing is the most important economic activity in the coastal area of Pakistan, contributing to employment, income generation and export revenues. Marine production has increased more than ten-fold while inland production has increased more than twenty-fold over the last 50 years, largely as a result of government assistance. As a result of this production increase, the resource of key species (particularly shrimp) has been severely depleted in the coastal waters. Concentration of activity in the coastal waters has resulted in the area between 12-35 nautical miles being under-utilized due to the lack of modern boats with the equipment necessary to exploit these areas. Measures introduced to reduce the coastal water overexploitation include seasonal closures, reduction in boat numbers and encouraging diversification of activity into the less exploited fisheries.


The fisheries sector in Pakistan makes a significant contribution to the national economy, contributing about one percent to GDP and providing jobs to about one percent of the country's labour force. It is the most important economic activity in the coastal area of Pakistan. It is estimated that 400 000 fishermen and their families are dependent on the fisheries sector for their livelihood. Its contribution to the country's export earnings is quite substantial. About 83 000 million tonnes of fish and fishery products valued at Rs. 7.27 billion (US$ 172 million) were exported in 1997.

The Government is taking an interest in the development of the fisheries sector of Pakistan. Emphasis is being given to strengthening the fisheries infrastructure, enhancement of fish production, increase in export earnings as well as domestic consumption of fish, diversification of fishing effort, exploitation of hitherto untapped resources and, above all, improving the socio-economic condition of the fishing communities. Because of these efforts, fish production has increased to a level of 615 904 tonnes in 1998, with 433 098 tonnes from marine and 182 806 tonnes from inland bodies (Table 1).

Table 1. Marine fish production of Pakistan (in m. tonnes)




Total Production




Total Marine


23 910

8 983


32 893

7 050

39 943


26 360

10 889


37 249

10 400

47 649


45 824

16 333


62 157

18 500

80 657


102 418

37 385


139 803

18 740

158 543


175 255

57 688


232 943

46 320

279 263


260 246

107 226

2 330


113 158

484 960


295 648

130 799

6 651

433 098

182 806

615 904

Fishing in the past was predominantly concentrated on shallow water coastal stocks. Trawling for shrimp was the main commercial fishing activity. Because of uncontrolled increases in the shrimping fleet, its resources have severely been depleted and there is a general fear that these fisheries, which are the main stay of our exports from Pakistan, may collapse in the near future. Considering this, some management measures for the conservation of our shrimp stock, as suggested by fishery biologists, are as being taken such as (i) imposing a two months ban on shrimping during May-June; (ii) reduction in number of trawlers; and (iii) diversification of fishing efforts. Gillnetting and longlining in comparatively deeper water is recommended for diversification of shrimp trawlers. This diversification has picked up pace. It is estimated that at least 300 shrimp trawlers have been converted into gillnetters and longliners. At present, about 18 000 boats are involved in fishing in the coastal waters of Sindh and Balochistan.


Pakistan is endowed with rich fishing potential. It is located in the northern part of the Arabian Sea. The Arabian Sea at the coast of Sindh and Balochistan has rich fish deposits of commercial importance. Pakistan has a coastline of about 1 120 km, with a number of bays and broad continental shelf lying in front of the Indus deltas which are ideal for growth of marine life. The Exclusive Economic Zone of Pakistan extends up to 200 nautical miles from the coast. Major fish centres are Karachi, Gwadar and Pasni. Most of the marine catch is done within 12 nautical miles. On the basis of topographical features and productivity, the coast is divided into two zones, i.e. the northwestern region or Makran coast, and the southeastern region or Sindh coast

The northwestern region (or Mekran Coast) extends from Hub River to the Iranian border, which is about 772 km long. The entire shelf area of this region comes to about 14 530 km2. The bottom is generally rock and the shelf is uneven. The continental slope (i.e. isobath of 200 m) starts between ten and 30 miles along the coastline. The region is characterized by a number of bays such as Sonmiani, Ormara, Kalmat, Pasni, Gwadar and Gwater bays. Trawling is possible in some areas but in most part, the shelf is narrow and has rough bottom and beset with numerous rugged canyons and rocky areas.

The southeastern region (or Sindh Coast) is 348 km long and extends between the Pakistan-Indian border and the Hub River. The bottom is generally sandy or sandy-muddy. The shelf area is about 35 740 km2. The shelf in most areas in the Indus delta region extends up to 80 miles. The region, unlike Balochistan, is characterized by a network of creeks having mangroves that serve as a nursery ground for finfish and shellfish resources.


Various governments, FAO and other UN agencies, and the Marine Fisheries Department of the Government of Pakistan have undertaken independent studies to determine the size of the fishery resources in Pakistan, but have all arrived at different estimates. The estimates of biomass, maximum sustainable yield, landing and incremental potential (i.e. the additional output that could be achieved) for different species of fish derived by the Marine Fisheries Department are given in Table 2.

From Table 2, it can be seen that shrimp, cephalopods, molluscs, crabs and lobsters do not have much incremental potential after the landings were deducted from MSY. Therefore, the only additional benefit to be derived from these species is to have value added processing. Considerable incremental potential exists in small pelagic species such as sardines and anchovies, and in large pelagic species such as tuna and mackerel. These species can be used for canning and other forms of processing of sardines, anchovies and tuna. Tuna and mackerel can also be processed raw (sashimi) and loin (frozen). The largest incremental potential (about 5 million tonnes) is for mesopelagic lantern fish. These fish are 2.5-5 cm long, and are found between 300-1 000 meters depth during the day, and between 50-500 meters during the night. These, however, are only good for making fish meal, preferably on board.

Table 2. Fish resources and incremental potential (tonnes)




Landings (1996)

Incremental potential

Small pelagic species

700 000

300 000

98 500

200 000

Large pelagic species

80 000

60 000

33 600

26 000

Demersal species

500 000

300 000

225 600

74 300


88 000

35 000

27 800



20 000

12 000

5 900

6 000


8 000

4 000

5 000

3 500


10 000

6 000

3 200

2 800


1 300

6 000

7 000



10 000 000

5 000 000


5 000 000


11 407 300

5 717 600

395 800

5 312 300

Most of the marine catch is taken within 12 nautical miles from the coast as the boats are small with little catching and preserving equipment on board. This reduces the catch per boat and, therefore, increases the cost of fish per kg. The area from 12-35 nautical miles (Zone-I), although reserved for local fishermen, remains under-utilized as a consequence of the paucity of modern boats equipped with the equipment necessary for catch and preservation in this area.


Fishing within territorial waters (up to 12 nautical miles) is basically a provincial responsibility. All the four provinces of Pakistan, namely Punjab, Sindh, NWFP and Balochistan have Departments of Fisheries and each Department has a Directorate under it to deal with the subject of fisheries. The basic role of provincial governments is the implementation of work in the fishery sector, and the operation of fish harbours under their jurisdiction. Inland fishing and fish farming is also under the control of provincial governments, which supply seed, run hatcheries, provide extension services, collect primary data and promote fisheries through producing literature and brochures and running seminars.

Fishing beyond territorial waters (which includes the deep sea activity) is however, a federal responsibility. The federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock is the principal ministry dealing with the fishery sector. It primarily deals with policy making regarding fish catching, exporting, and the future development of the sector. It also obtains loans from foreign sources such as the Asian Development Bank and foreign governments. The Ministry is also responsible for the collation of data collected by the provinces at the national level. It also controls the issuance of licences to fish processing units for exporting processed fish, and to vessel operators for operating ships in deep-sea waters. It also plays a role in the operation of projects such as Korangi Fish Harbour. The federal Ministry of Communications controls and operates Gwader Fish Harbour, Balochistan.

In addition to the role of government, cooperative societies also play an important role in the organizing and running of the fisheries. There are a number of cooperative societies, primarily in the harbour areas. Fishermen's Cooperative Society of Karachi, Balochistan Fishermen's Cooperative Society of Gwadar, Fishermen's Association of Mekran, and Anjuman Ittehad-e-Mahigiran (Association of United Fishermen) in Balochistan are the major cooperative societies. The societies provide a united platform to the fishermen for dealing with government and other agencies, to protect and fight for the causes of fishermen, to help them in marketing to provide nets and other items, etc. Other cooperative societies also work on the same basis but on a much smaller scale.


Most of the fishing boats being used in Pakistan are made of wood. There are about 19 000 registered boats in Pakistan, of which about 14 000 boats are being operated from Sindh, and the remaining 5 000 fishing boats being operated from Balochistan. In the Exclusive Economic Zone of Pakistan, 30 fishing vessels (20 stern trawlers and 10 tuna longliners) are permitted by the government to operate beyond 35 miles from the coastline. Fishing activities are continued throughout the year; however, peak fishing seasons are during post-southwest monsoon calm period (September to November). Shrimp are caught throughout the year except June and July, during which time the Government of Sindh imposes a closed season.

The most common fishing gear used in Pakistan is the gillnet, used by both small as well as larger fishing vessels. Smaller fishing boats employ gillnets in shallow waters, and catch a variety of demersal fishes such as croakers, pomfrets, trevallies, mullets, catfishes and sharks. Bottom set gillnets, locally known as tukri, are also used for catching shrimp. In contrast, trawling for shrimp is the most important fishing gear being used in Pakistan, and is undertaken by medium sized fishing trawlers (LOA 15 to 20 m). Large gillnetters are employed for catching tuna, mackerel, sailfish and other pelagic species in offshore waters. Sardinellas and anchovies are caught in shallow coastal waters using encircling nets locally known as katra. Line gears are also used in shallow coastal waters for catching seabreams, croakers, eels and other demersal species.

Fishing is undertaken right from the seashore to 200 nautical miles out to sea. This distance has been divided into two broad categories known as (i) coastal water fishing (up to 12 nautical miles) and (ii) deep sea fishing. The area of deep sea fishing has further been divided into Zone-I (12 to 35 nautical miles) and Zone-II (35 to 200 nautical miles). Coastal water fishing is undertaken in most coast villages. These villages are predominantly inhabited by fishers whose main livelihood is fishing. In contrast, deep-sea fishing in Zone II is undertaken largely as a commercial venture. The zone is reserved for foreign as well as Pakistan Flag vessels. Several restrictions are imposed on the fleet operating in this zone, including:


Pakistan is rich in marine fishery resources, where catching is done in the coastal areas of Sindh and Balochistan. The catch consists of more than 30 species of shrimp, ten species of crab, five species of lobster, and 70 commercial species of fish including sardine, hilsa, shark, mackerel, butter fish, pomfret, sole, tuna, seabream, Jew fish, catfish and eel. In 1998, almost 40 000 tonnes of shellfish were harvested from coastal waters of Pakistan (Table 3). Shellfish such as shrimp, lobsters and crabs are also important export species. In addition to domestic consumption, about 73 000 tonnes, valued at Rs. 0.6 billion, of fish and fishery products are exported mainly to China, Japan, European Union and Persian Gulf countries (Table 4).

Table 3. Shellfish production in Pakistan (in t)






Shrimp (total)


25 369


26 204

· White shrimp


5 311


5 311

· Pink/brown shrimp


6 204


6 204

· Kiddi shrimp


13 854


13 854

· Misc. shrimp












5 680


5 680



6 325


6 525

Total shellfish

1 334

37 675


39 191

Table 4. Fish export (1998)


Quantity (m. tonnes)

Value (000 Rs)


46 063

1 974 694

· Salted

18 610

548 775

· Frozen

24 249

1 220 126

· Chilled

3 168

203 905

· Others


1 888


15 921

3 209 779

· Frozen

15 900

3 208 037

· Others


1 742



38 113

· Frozen


29 624

· Live


8 489


4 078

194 121

· Frozen


25 471

· Live

3 940

165 385

· Canned


3 265


5 806

335 213

· Frozen

5 674

331 456

· Preserved


3 757

Fish products

1 738

182 615

· Fishmeal

1 568

22 535

· Fish maws


86 163

· Shark fins


73 917


73 710

5 934 535


The area between 12-35 nautical miles, although reserved for local fishermen, remains under-utilized due to the lack of modern boats equipped with necessary equipment for catch and preservation. The area between 35-200 nautical miles which is declared as EEZ Zone II is reserved for foreign as well as Pakistan Flag vessels which operate under licence from the Government of Pakistan. The catch in Zone II is very nominal and, therefore, has potential for increased exploitation.

The immediate need in the shrimp fishery is to enforce measures that will stop overfishing due to too many trawlers. This will allow the stocks of "Jaira" and "Kalri" shrimp to recover and production to rise. These measures should also minimize the danger of depletion of shrimp stocks (including "Kiddi") through overexploitation. Overfishing has reduced the proportion of shrimp in total fish exports in value and volume terms. Shrimp aquaculture along creeks and shallow waters near the coast has to be developed. Fish processors are apprehensive of the future prospects of shrimp catch because of pollution hazards, decreasing discharge of the Indus River due to construction of dams and barrages, and overexploitation.

The unexploited available yield of demersal species is estimated to be 74 000 tonnes a year. Most of this is located in the portion of the continental shelf beyond the 20 m depth line. Financial and other assistance should be provided to surplus shrimp trawlers to convert to gillnetting, longlining or other techniques for exploiting under-utilized demersal stocks. Bottom gillnetting can yield substantial amount of untapped shark, bream, catfish, grunts and sweet lips, cracker, snapper and grouper similarly longlining can yield shark and other fish.

The potential also exists for catching pelagics such as tuna, mackerel and shark. Cuttlefish and squid resources exist on the continental shelf and oceanic squid beyond the shelf. Good development possibilities exist for cephalopod fishing, which is almost non-existent so far.

A large amount of mesopelagic resources remain unexploited and an annual catch of several hundred thousand tonnes can be expected. Other potentially exploitable resources exist including mussels, oysters, clams, crabs, algae, sea urchins, etc. Further investigations should be made to determine the feasibility of developing fisheries or mariculture farms and pilot projects should be formulated, where appropriate, to encourage the private sector.

Efforts have to be made to exploit the commercial possibilities of alternate fisheries. These include seaweeds, crustaceans (other than shrimp), molluscs, and echinodrum.

[81] Assistant Fisheries Development Commissioner, Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock, Government of Pakistan, Islamabad, Pakistan.

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