draws foreign investors
From singing fish to smoked eel
Undeterred by infighting between Tamil Tiger terrorist factions,
a German-Japanese joint venture plans to invest half a million dollars
on a smoked fish project in Batticaloa in one of the first foreign
investments in the war zone area since the ceasefire.
will export smoked eel to consumers in Japan and Europe who pay
a premium price for what is considered a delicacy that is becoming
ever more expensive as European eel populations face extinction
since over fishing has led to a catastrophic slump in numbers.
is the first inland smoked fish project in the country and the first
smoked fish project in the North and East, and marks a change in
the attitude of investors who have so far adopted a 'wait and see"
policy on investments in the war zone.
risk, no revenue. They always come together," declared Ms Chizuko
Uunshiyama, director of the joint venture firm, Wild Fish Ltd.,
when asked why they were not deterred by the threat of renewed fighting
and the uncertainty and risk in the area.
can wait until it is safe but then there would be no advantage.
Our advantage in going to the east coast now is that we're the first
to market." Wild Fish Ltd. hopes to begin commercial operation
by the end of this year.
smoked fish will be primarily exported to Japan, the country that
consumes 80 percent of the world's eel production, as well as to
Japanese restaurants and hotels elsewhere. The product will also
be exported to the EU countries.
eel is not considered an edible fish in Sri Lanka but is a highly
priced delicacy in Europe and Japan," said Uunshiyama. The
retail price overseas is around $40-50 per kg.
is an inland fishing project using fish in the lagoons, lakes and
rivers of Batticaloa," said Admiral Terence Sundaram, CEO of
North-East Regional Economic Development Commission (NEREDC), a
new office opened in Trincomalee by the Board of Investment in a
bid to attract industries to the region.
north-east has a considerable pool of young, trainable labour, but
only a few industries exist to harness this potential. According
to government estimates the total unemployed in the region is around
325,000 with 17,000 new entrants to the labour force each year.
factory's initial production capacity, on a 12-acre land in Batticaloa,
will be one tonne per month and it will be expanded to 500 tonnes
a year by 2006. The investors chose Batticaloa due to the availability
of fresh water, and also because smoked fish made from wild fish
as opposed to farm fish commands a premium price overseas.
process of smoking is considered new here with the fish being cooked
inside hot smoke and comparable to some products which are grilled
and dried - a mix between dried and grilled fish - but which still
has the texture of fresh fish and a longer shelf life.
foreign investors decided to set up the project in Batticaloa owing
to the availability of fish stocks and because eel stocks are getting
depleted in Europe resulting in it becoming an endangered species.
"The eel is hardly consumed here so there's a huge quantity
available," a company official said. "In Europe the eel
is so rare you can't get any more licences to catch them."
restrictions were imposed after experts warned that the European
eel is facing extinction. Biologists have said that European eel
populations could be as low as one per cent of the size they were
20 years ago.
the past 10 years, the number caught across Europe has slumped by
two-thirds - from about 30,000 tonnes to 10,000 tonnes. Around the
Severn Estuary - Britain's largest eel fishery - the rate of decline
is even steeper, falling from about 50 tonnes in the 1980s to just
10 tonnes in 2002.
suspect the decline can be blamed on over-fishing, changes in ocean
circulation, water pollution, the construction of dams, power stations
and weirs on rivers, and even a vicious parasite carried by Asian
eels, which damages its buoyancy sacs.
Batticaloa project will employ 40 personnel for processing related
direct employment and it will also create another 80 indirect jobs.
These people will be trained, in catching and preserving fish according
to international health regulations, in filleting as well as in
'retort poaching' - a US technology that enables the sterilizing
and packaging of fish under pressure and heat conditions.
retort poaching system ensures the ability to store fish in a tin
for as long a period as six years without refrigeration.
"smoking" of the fish will be done using coconut shells
and natural firewood and there will be no preservatives added, coming
to the consumer as a ready-to-eat product combined with the necessary
salt and spices.