Mangalore, May 23 (IANS) Aquaculture, generally associated with coastal areas, will soon head inland in a move that is expected to significantly boost India’s fish exports, according to an official.
The focus on what is called inland aquaculture, especially in landlocked areas, is part of a concerted effort to diversify the country’s fish production and to get more people involved in fish-farming, said A. Jayathilak, Chairman, Marine Products Export Development Authority (MPEDA).
“There is a mental block that aquaculture is limited only to saline aquaculture. Perhaps that’s because, traditionally, most of the success stories have emerged from the saline aquaculture segment,” Jayathilak told IANS in an interview.
“But aquaculture per se doesn’t distinguish between saline and freshwater. Wherever there is water available, one can do fish-farming,” he said.
While Indian fish and seafood exports have been growing significantly over the past five years with figures of $5.5 billion in 2014-15, there has been minimal contribution from the land-locked states.
Jayathilak said that MPEDA was planning to hold next year’s Aqua Aquaria — a global summit on aquaculture — in a landlocked state like Haryana to promote fish-farming in such areas.
“In terms of production, one could have any number of freshwater fish in landlocked areas. Tilapia is one such promising fish which involves minimal investment and high return. There is a ready market for it as well,” Jayathilak said.
He added that breeding of freshwater ornamental fish was also a viable option with returns often at 10 times the investment.
“Secondly, there are many areas even in landlocked states like Haryana where water bodies have become saline for various reasons,” the MPEDA chairman said.
However, he added, MPEDA’s focus was not only on landlocked states but also on landlocked areas within maritime states.
“If you look at a state like Maharashtra, less than one-fourth or one-fifth of the total number of districts lie on the coast while the rest are all inland,” he said.
Jayathilak added that same was the case in Karnataka, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Orissa, all of which have huge non-marine segments despite being marine states.
“So instead of looking at just land-locked states, we are looking at land-locked districts whether they are in coastal states or otherwise. We have a lot of districts away from the coasts in maritime states where one could have freshwater aquaculture,” the MPEDA Chairman told IANS.
He added that even in coastal areas, brackish water aquaculture could be done wherever there is brackish water.
While sea water is completely saline and freshwater is not saline at all, there is brackish water in between which is somewhat saline, he said.
“And for each level of salinity, we have a fish variety to be farmed… So the potential is huge.”
Jayathilak said that the success of the initiative depended completely on states as they needed to come out with a land-lease policy to exploit the huge potential of fish-farming.
“We have so many water bodies — dams, ponds, lakes — all of which fall on government land. The government cannot go and start fishing there. We need a policy to lease out water bodies to encourage private partnership in using this common resource in a sustainable manner,” he said.
“Broad guidelines are given by the central government about the fish to be farmed and quality norms to be followed. But the land-lease policy can come only from the state governments,” the MPEDA Chairman said.
“It can be a cage policy where the government gives a certain area for protected farming in cages,” he said, adding the states can earn revenue as well by charging a lease from the private farmers.
The MPEDA has written to several state governments regarding this and many of them have responded positively, Jayathilak said.