Cage culture for fisheries holds promise

Globally, the fisheries industry is $410 billion, employing approximately 60 million people.

Published: 23rd May 2022 07:54 AM  |   Last Updated: 23rd May 2022 07:54 AM   |  A+A-

Image used for representational purpos only. (Photo | EPS)

The UN’s FAO estimates indicate that growth in total fish consumption outpaced all other animal proteins, recording year-on-year growth of 2.1% since 2015 (SOFIA 2020–21). Scientific guidance supports the superiority of fish as a source of protein over other animal products. Aquaculture is as old as agriculture and globally accounts for 46% of total fish production. Adoption of scientific breeding technologies, feeding and the use of growth chemicals have led to a dramatic increase in production.

However, the soaring demand for fish in the future will be even more dramatic. We are likely to reach a population level of 9.8 billion by 2050 and it is imperative that food production including fish quantity be taken to the next level.

Globally, the fisheries industry is $410 billion, employing approximately 60 million people. The present scale and certain extractive practices like bottom trawling, use of underwater explosives, etc., have led to the depletion of the marine ecosystem. Pollution and overfishing have rendered many water bodies unsuitable for fisheries. Wild fish stocks have come down dramatically—so much so in 2020, the Polynesian island of Palau banned sea fishing to protect the marine ecosystem.

Till the year 2000, marine fishing dominated India’s total fish production. Since then, inland aquaculture has made rapid strides. Today, it accounts for 57% of India’s domestic production and 68% of exports. On the other hand, marine fishing in India has stagnated. Apart from being constrained by the lack of modern fishing harbours, poor management of onshore infrastructure and questionable hygiene and sanitation, there are other problems—the lack of investment in marine fishing vessels makes the outlook bleak.

In this context, cage culture practised for many decades in Scandinavian countries appears to be most promising. The productivity of this model and using it in hitherto unexploited resources such as reservoirs is quite appealing. In addition to all these pros, this method also reaps the highest productivity in proportion to the investment.

In India, nearly 16,000 cages have been installed across various states in different water bodies and reservoirs. A cage is typically a circular or a rectangular structure with bamboo or metal frames from which nylon nets are hung, which are submerged in water. The size extends from a 16-metre diameter for circular cages. For rectangular cages, the dimensions are 6m x 4m x 4m (lxbxh). Indian sizes are limited to small and medium dimensions. The investment per cage comes to approximately `1 crore. Even though the investment for the cage and its installation can be on the higher side, the ease of management and sheer productivity has led some to describe cages as “floating ATM machines”.

However, the cage culture has not yet reached the desired extent of success in the country for several reasons. We will analyse the many reasons behind its lack of success and describe how Odisha is pioneering a successful experiment.

One of the key success factors in reservoir cage culture is stakeholder management. Reservoirs are common property resources accessed by multiple stakeholders at any given point of time. States that have implemented reservoir cage cultures have provided 100% subsidy for initial capital investment to the fishermen communities who are traditional lease holders. Cages require a very high level of initial investment and an enormous quantity of feed. The fisheries cooperatives lack the capacity to manage fish breeding even though there is a significant government subsidy.

India has nearly 300 major and 1,000 minor irrigation reservoirs according to the Central Water Commission (Annual Report 2020). These reservoirs are leased out to fishermen communities in the adjoining habitations. Oftentimes they have primitive boats, small nets and are not aware of scientific stocking, leading to a suboptimal harvest. Sources from WorldFish, a research institute, indicate that even though the cooperative societies are heavily subsidised, the production has been below par and lacked recurring benefits.

This intensive form of fish farming is a business model with sizeable input and production cost, with non-avertible risks in return on investment. It calls for private sector investment and management. Countries like Norway, Canada and US, and Southeast Asian nations allow private sector with a mechanism of profit sharing with the fishing community. However, states like Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand relied exclusively on promoting the fishermen’s cooperative societies. The private sector was not included in the plan. Hence, the states have under-performed.

In this scenario, the Odisha government has struck a winning note. It collaborated with WorldFish in 2018 to carry out a detailed study about the existing condition of reservoirs and planned for optimal capacities. Based on the findings of the study, Odisha published guidelines for cage culture in reservoirs for private entrepreneurs and companies in partnership with Primary Fishermen Co-operative Societies (PFCS).

The policy provides for reservoir areas, which did not interest the PFCS. One percent of the reservoir area has been demarcated for cage implementation. The area is divided into zones and each zone is further divided into 10–20 subzones measuring up to 1,000 sq.m. One subzone can accommodate 24 rectangular cages (three circular cages). Once installed, a circular cage continues to harvest approximately 30 tonnes of fish in half yearly cycles.

Entrepreneurs can access the allocated subzones for a five-year lease period at a floor price set by the government. If multiple entrepreneurs are interested in one subzone , the highest financial proposal among the shortlisted entrepreneurs is selected. Further, a single-window interface to obtain multiple departmental approvals has been put in place. The entrepreneurs are supported by capital investment subsidy from the state scheme. Common infrastructure such as jetties, parking and landing halls are to be created by the state government.

The PFCS holds the area under lease and will receive 50% of the consideration amount from the entrepreneur. The partnership model is attracting growing interest among the PFCSs. This creates a win-win situation for both parties. This approach has addressed the PFCS’ concern while permitting private capital investment.

Odisha is conducting an experiment to accommodate the traditional fishermen communities’ interest along with investment from entrepreneurs. The model also ensures initial subsidy for capital investment to reduce the financial burden on entrepreneurs. There is a huge demand for reservoir-based fish and the return on investment makes the business model very attractive.

Currently, Hirakud Dam of Odisha has investments from 69 entrepreneurs. The plans include extension of the Hirakud model to Indravati, Rengali, Balimela and many other reservoirs. It is expected that cage culture across Odisha will translate into nearly 1.25 lakh MT harvest per annum soon.

Asit Tripathy IAS, (Retd)

Former Chief Secretary, Government of Odisha




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