The use of deadly formalin in preservation of fish in states such as Kerala and Andhra Pradesh was flagged during a national seminar, ‘Fish Tech-2019’, held on Wednesday at Veraval, the biggest marine products exporting hub of Gujarat.
“If you want to transport fish over long distances, it has to be transported in ice or it has to be frozen. Otherwise bacteria multiplies inside the tissues and it will spoil the fish… Formalin is used to preserve bodies in mortuaries. (When it is used in fish) though all the bacteria will die, when you consume formalin-laced fish it becomes a health hazard,” said Toms C Joseph, Principal Scientist and Scientist-in-charge, Veraval Research Centre of Central Institute of Fisheries Technology (CIFT).
Joseph was replying to a query posed by one of the participants at the seminar, where scientists and seafood exporters deliberated on the topic ‘Fishery Waste Management: Challenges and Business Opportunity in Gujarat’.
Instances of formalin use have been reported from states such as Kerala, Goa and Andhra Pradesh. After this issue came to light, CIFT in July 2018 developed an easy-to-use kit to detect the presence of formalin in fish. Since then, Mumbai-based HiMedia Laboratories, to which the technology was licenced, has been producing and marketing the kit.
“CIFT has come out with a kit for the detection of ammonia and formaldehyde (0.2% of the chemical mixed in water is known as formalin) and even yesterday there was news about a lot of contaminated fish being found in Kerala,’ Joseph said. Now anybody can use the strip-test for detection of formaldehyde in fish, and this has caught the imagination of the public. “When this kit was tested, we found contamination in many markets, especially in fish transported from Andhra to the northeastern states,” he added. “Later on the fisheries department of Andhra Pradesh began testing all consignments of fish leaving the state.”
With regard to Gujarat, scientists from the Kochi-headquartered CIFT conducted random checks in August 2018 for formalin, using the kits in the fish market in Veraval. “We didn’t find anything then. We are yet to do a follow up,” Joseph later told The Indian Express.
As Gujarat tops marine fish production in the country, it is important to check the practice if formalin is being used in the state. The annual marine fish landings of Gujarat for the year 2018 is estimated at 7.8 lakh tonne, with Gir Somnath district contributing the highest 3.6 lakh tonne fish catch. Devbhoomi Dwarka with 1.6 lakh tonne, Porbandar 0.95 lakh tonne and Amreli 0.86 lakh tonne are the other districts that recorded the highest fish production in 2018.
Speaking on the sidelines of the event jointly organised by CIFT and Kochi-based Society of Fisheries Technologists (India), Dr A A Zynudheen, Principal Scientist, CIFT-Kochi who was one of the scientists who developed the formalin detection kit, said, “The issues of formalin-laced fish have largely been reported from the three states of Goa, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh. Our kit has been very successful in providing on-the-spot detection of formalin in fish.”