By Sameer Mandhro
KARACHI: The commodity being exported to Hong Kong was labeled, ‘dried fish maws and dried fish skin’, as certified by the marine fisheries department. The consignment, when inspected by the Customs officials at the Karachi port, however, was found to contain the meat of over 4,000 protected and endangered freshwater turtles.
The export company, the Hongda Trading Company, whose processing plant is located in Ibrahim Hyderi, Korangi, was granted the certificate of quality and origin [health certificate\ on February 10. The certificate mentions that the commodity for which the company requested inspection was dried fish maws, weighing 4,002 kg. The certificate also clearly states that the consignment was inspected, packed and processed as provided by the Pakistan Fish Inspection and Quality Control Act, 1997.
“Turtle meat was being exported in the name of dried fish,” exclaimed an official, requesting anonymity.
The director-general of the marine fisheries department, Shaukat Hussain, who functions under the aegis of the ministry of ports and shipping, denied his department had anything to do with the smuggling. “We are not responsible for the illegal export of turtle meat,” justified Hussain.
“It is illegal and the law doesn’t allow anyone to export such species from Pakistan in any case,” said the conservator of the Sindh Wildlife Department, Javed Ahmed Mahar. “It is completely illegal if turtle meat was being exported in the name of fish,” he added.
“The consignment that was inspected contained dried fish, not the meat of any protected species,” contradicted Hussain. “We can’t issue a certificate for these protected species.” Another official, however, denounced Hussain’s claims. “It is mandatory for authorities to ensure that the consignment is sealed before them. And if it is not sealed before them, they are responsible for negligence.”
Hussain responded, however, that it was not their job to keep a check on the consignment until it reached its destination. “I think the exporter either reused the certificate or destroyed the previous consignment,” he guessed. He said that his department had never issued a certificate for the export of turtle meat.
A blooming trade
There are several fish processing plants located in Ibrahim Hydery. Some of these are known to be involved in illegal exports, such as the purchase of the prohibited trash fish.
Interestingly, an official of the marine fisheries department said that one of the exporters had tried to approach him for the issuance of a certificate for turtle meat in the name of dried fish. “The person wanted to bring the turtles from Punjab but we strictly refused him.”
Hussain said that his department has issued a show-cause notice to the exporter. “We can ban the company forever if he doesn’t satisfy us.” He said that the Customs officials have not contacted his department yet. “We came to know through the media.”
Explaining the process, the DG said that an official of his department inspects the material to ensure its quality and the kinds of species that are being exported. “Quality is our primary concern, hence the validity of the certificate is just five days.” He added that around 40 certificates are issued by his department daily.
The controversy started when Customs officials seized a consignment, containing the meat of 4,342 turtles. Sources also revealed that the exporter included dried fish in the consignment to deceive the Customs officials.
These turtle species are native to the Indus river and listed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Their poaching, catching, trapping, netting, suing, trading, transport and export is strictly prohibited under the Sindh Wildlife Protection Ordinance, 1972.