By Pittala Ravinder
The efforts by the Telangana government during the last five years to rejuvenate the ailing fisheries sector are proliferating favourable results. This can be determined from the remarkable growth in fisheries production and productivity.
Owing to the outstanding scheme of ‘free fish seed supply’ by the Telangana government, a first-of-its-kind in India, introduced in the State during 2016-17, the fisheries sector is doing extremely well here. Some 3,939 water bodies were selected and around 27.85 crore of fishlings costing about Rs 22.46 crore stocked. It yielded nearly 2 lakh tonnes of table size fish worth Rs 1,356 crore.
Encouraged by the success of the pilot, the Fisheries Department has been increasing the number of water bodies to stock fish seed every year. This year, it stands at 28,704, including the tanks and reservoirs.
The department has planned to stock over 93 crore fingerlings at a cost of Rs 90 crore this year, expecting to surpass the projected fish production of 5 lakh tonnes by the end of the ensuing harvesting season. It has also ventured into growing freshwater prawns from 2017-18. It plans to stock an all-time high of 25 crore prawn juveniles spending around Rs 10 crore this year.
The ‘free fish seed supply’ scheme has resulted in multiple benefits for the sunrise sector, including augmentation of fish production and productivity, availability of fresh fish to local consumers at a reasonable price, enhancing the average incomes of the local fishermen and fishermen cooperative societies, sustaining the local fish markets being run by the local fisherwomen and increasing fish food consumption. The supply of fish seed free of cost to the fisheries cooperatives also helped eliminate middlemen and private money lenders.
Interestingly, the people who earlier refused to join the fisheries cooperatives are now vying for their membership. The increased water sources, consequent to recently developed lift irrigation projects and its allied water storage reservoirs across the Godavari Basin and the resultant enhancement of the effective water spread area, has greatly helped.
In the past, middlemen and contractors used to dictate terms to the fishermen primary cooperative societies in fixing the fish procurement price at the source since the poor fishermen were forced to stay mute spectators under the pretext that the former was providing the required capital investments in arranging the fish seed and feed. Ironically, the middlemen and the contractors used to pay a paltry sum of Rs 15-28 per kg they bought from the fishermen against which at present the cooperative societies are selling the same fish directly to the retailers ranging from Rs 70 to Rs 100 a kg.
The same is the case with prawns, which is selling between Rs 200 and Rs 300 per kg on site. In turn, the retailers — majority are from the same fishermen communities — are selling the same fresh fish between Rs 150 and Rs 200 a kg, while the prawns are sold at Rs 300-Rs 400 a kg. With the government support, the local fishermen and women folks are able to exercise their control over the entire system of fish rearing and marketing, resulting in profits.
The outcome of the ‘free fish seed supply’ scheme during the last five years, with an expenditure of Rs 208.44 crore, created wealth worth of Rs 30,000 crore through the production of 15 lakh tonnes of fish and 40,000 tonnes of prawns. The total worth is calculated together for the two components of the fish and prawns at their selling price at the respective water bodies and the retail open market price at the consumer end.
The coming up of the Kaleshwaram lift irrigation project removed uncertainty on water availability and ensured sufficient storage. This is one of the major factors in enhancing fish production in the State.
According to the Fisheries Department, the effective water spread area has increased from 6 lakh hectares in the past to 7.5 lakh hectares now. In addition to water resources, the de-silting of over 49,000 age-old water storage tanks through Mission Kakatiya has also improved the water spread areas.
The future of the fisheries sector is more promising in the wake of the global and Indian fisheries scenario where fish production in the marine sector is rapidly dropping while the contribution from the inland sector is surging, every year.
The production from the marine sector stood at 64% in 1980 while the inland sector contributed just 36%. These figures almost reversed by 2020 with the marine sector recording a low of 26% against the inland sector’s contribution of 74%. Parallel to these, the aquaculture system, both in marine and inland sectors, is also growing fast with its innovative and modern technological advances.
Aquaculture, in a short span, now occupies around 43% of the total fish production in the world, and more or less the trend is the same in India. Of late, the new-fangled aquaculture is catching on in the fast-growing fisheries sector of Telangana, mostly in the private entrepreneurship segment.
Telangana, being the third-largest inland water resources State in the country, could emerge as the main market for fish production if supplemented adequately by the Kaleshwaram project and Mission Kakatiya. The fast-growing inland fisheries sector in the country and the declining inputs from the marine sector would also power this growth.
(The author is Founder-President of Telangana Fisheries Society and Convener of South Indian Fishermen Communities Association. He is also member of World Aquaculture Society and Asian Fisheries Society)