To address the lack of hatcheries for spawning of fingerlings (2-8 cm in length), the fisheries department has decided to give fingerlings directly to fish farmers in the district. The farmers can cultivate the fingerlings in small ponds till they reach an average size to put in large waterbodies.
Instead of investing in hatcheries, the fisheries department is now focusing on interested farmers who can turn themselves into hatchery specialists. “We have initially identified select fish farmers who will cultivate them. These fingerlings can be sold directly by the farmer or can be given back to the department. But from the next financial year, the fingerlings will be given to whoever wants them,” said Ignatious Mandro, Joint Fisheries Director, Aquaculture.
The fisheries department was forced to look into the issue as farmers have started cultivating exotic species such as African Pacu as it is easy to get their fingerlings for not more than one rupee a piece; exotic species have the risk of eating local species and eating into their feeds. Officials said good quality fingerlings were available of only species such as Gift Tilapia while carp is no longer economically viable. “The feed that they get is also not of much value,” an official said.
Meanwhile in ponds and canals, low-value fishes are being nurtured and it is being operated as a side business. Even officials agree that under the department’s subsidy schemes, fishlings of 1-2 cm size are being given and they cannot survive the natural waters. “Around 90% of them die. Ideally, they should be given fingerlings of 8cm length which can be put in ponds. They have to give more impetus to the distributions of fish seed (fingerlings) and fish feed,” an official said.
Scientists at the Centre for Inland Fisheries Research Institute (CIFRI) said farmers are not aware of the catastrophe created by cultivating banned fish species. “The seeds are easily available, cost is much low and the growth rate is faster. But it would be good for the fishermen to cultivate local species. Unlike marine sector where there is more production because it is more organized, inland fishers are scattered and there are more anthropological issues such as pollution, constructions, habitat loss and decline in the open water area, affecting the inland fisheries,” said CIFRI scientist Rani Palaniswamy.
The inland fisheries have been dominated by shrimp farming which has been promoted by Agency for Development of Aquaculture, Kerala (ADAK), Marine Products Export Development Authority (MPEDA) and Fresh Water Fish Farmers Development Agencies (FFDAs).
More than 78% of the total area under shrimp culture is distributed in Ernakulam district and almost 70% of the total aquaculture production of the state is also contributed by Ernakulam district. It is followed by Alappuzha (9.40%); Kannur (5.44%) and Thrissur (4.68%) districts in area coverage.
Alien species reach natural waters by escaping from aquaculture systems. Indian major carps and common carp have also reached the natural waters also through regular open water ranching done by the state department of fisheries and agencies under it.