Fisheries and aquaculture are an important source of food production, nutritional security, employment, and income in India. The fisheries sector is a direct source of livelihoods for more than 20 million fishers and fish farmers; contributes INR 1.75 trillion annually to the gross value added to India’s economy; and is a major export earner, with fish being one of the most important agricultural commodities to be exported from India.
Blue Revolution, the Neel Kranti Mission has the vision to achieve economic prosperity of the country and the fishers and fish farmers as well as contribute towards food and nutritional security through full potential utilization of water resources for fisheries development in a sustainable manner, keeping in view the bio-security and environmental concerns.
Current status of Indian fisheries
- Fisheries are the primary source of livelihood for several communities.
- India is the world’s second-largest fish producer with exports worth more than Rs 47,000 crore.
- Fisheries are the country’s single-largest agriculture export, with a growth rate of 6 to 10 per cent in the past five years.
- Its significance is underscored by the fact that the growth rate of the farm sector in the same period is around 2.5 per cent.
- It has a marine fisher population of 3.5 million; 10.5 million people are engaged in inland fishery and fish farming.
Potential of fishing industry in India
- The investment of Rs 3,000 crore in the Blue Revolution is being supplemented through the Rs 7,523-crore Fisheries and Aquaculture Infrastructure Development Fund. This will meet the capital investment requirement of this sector.
- The productivity of freshwater fish farms has gone up to more than 3 metric tonnes per hectare from the 2.5 tonnes per hectare.
- Productivity of brackish water coastal aquaculture has touched 10 to 12 metric tonnes per hectare — a sharp increase from the previous two to four tonnes per hectare.
- Thirty thousand hectares have been added to the area under fish farming.
- The government has invested in hatcheries to meet the ever-increasing demand for good quality fish seed.
- The expansion of aquaculture would increase this demand exponentially.
- The introduction of cage culture in reservoirs and other open water bodies has led to an increase in output. Nearly 8,000 cages have been installed and even though a cage gives a modest yield of three tonnes of fish, this translates into a more than 1,000 per cent increase in productivity.
- This new practice gives freedom to fishermen from the risk of traversing dangerous rivers and restricted reservoirs.
With a coastline of over 8,000 km, an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of over 2 million sq km, and with extensive freshwater resources, fisheries play a vital role. Presently India is the second largest fish producing and second largest aquaculture nation in the world after China.
The total fish production during2017-18 (provisional) is registered at 12.61 million metric tonnes (MMT) with a contribution of 8.92 MMT from inland sector and 3.69 MMT from marine sector.
The marine fishery potential in the Indian waters have been estimated at 5.31 MMT constituting about 43.3% demersal, 49.5% pelagic and 4.3% oceanic groups.
Marine Fisheries contributes to food security and provides direct employment to over 1.5 mn fisher people besides others indirectly dependent on the sector. There are 3,432 marine fishing villages and 1,537 notified fish landing centres in 9 maritime states and 2 union territories.
According to the CMFRI Census 2010, the total marine fisherfolk population was about 4 million comprising in 864,550 families. Nearly 61% of the fishermen families were under BPL category.
India’s freshwater resources consists of rivers and canals (197,024 km), reservoirs (3.15 million ha), ponds and tanks (235 million ha), oxbow lakes and derelict waters (1.3 million ha), brackishwaters (1.24 million ha) and estuaries (0.29 million ha). The inland capture fish production has increased from 192,000 tonnes in 1950 to 781,846 tonnes in 2007, the major species being cyprinids, siluroids and murrels.
- Sustainability: The Food and Agriculture Organisation’s State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture reports note that nearly 90 per cent of the global marine fish stocks have either been fully-exploited or over-fished or depleted to an extent that recovery may not be biologically possible. While the near-shore coastal waters are highly overfished, the high value fish stock proliferates in the deep seas.
- Increasing demand: In order to meet the ever-increasing demand for animal protein, global fish production should touch 196 million tonnes by 2025 — it currently stands at 171 million tonnes. Taking into account the current depletion rate of marine fish stocks that seems next to impossible.
- Productivity: the productivity in both sectors is low — in terms of per fisher, per boat and per farm. In Norway, a fisherman/farmer catches/produces 250 kg per day while the Indian average is four to five kg.
- Insufficient Mechanization: Marine capture fishery comprises largely of small fishermen who operate traditional boats — either non-motorised vessels or boats with a basic outboard motor. These vessels cannot operate beyond near shore waters. High value species such as tuna cannot be caught by fishermen who use these vessels.
- The lack of refrigeration facilities leads to spoilage of the huge catch. Use of formalin to keep the stock fresh has lead to ban on export of fish catch.
- Bottom-trawling, improper demarcation of fishing boundaries has posed problems in form of killing, arresting of fishermen by neighbouring countries like SL, Pakistan etc.
- The new National Policy on Marine Fisheries talks of introducing deep-sea fishing vessels and assisting fishing communities to convert their vessels and gears for the waters beyond.
- There is a need to factor in the sustainability challenges and acknowledge that fishing is a primary livelihood activity for a large number of communities and individuals.
- The policies framed by the new department should aim at enhancing productivity, better returns and increased incomes.
- The policy envisages intensive fish farming through increased stocking of seed, better feed quality and diversification of species.
- Innovative practices such as re-circulatory aquaculture system aim to realise the goal of more crop per drop.
- We must prioritise seed production in order to attain self-sufficiency in the sector.
- Open sea cage culture is at a pilot stage and the initial trials have given promising results. This may prove another game changer.
A concentrated effort by an independent department could help the government achieve its objective of doubling farmers’ income, provided its policies address the challenge of sustainability. The country should be producing more than 15 million tonnes fish by the end of 2019. It should be on its way to become a hub for sustainable fish production.