Will Arunachal wake up to tap vast fish sector-I

Beyond the Horizon

By Pradeep Kumar

Arunachalees are basically fishitarians, but large varieties of fish in huge quantities brought from outside, including Andhra Pradesh, flood local markets of the state. This Himalayan state criss-crossed by numerous perennial rivers and streams besides having large number of lakes offers huge scopes for fisheries and aquaculture cultivation.

But ‘why’ has few unanswered answers. 1st, Arunachalees are yet to realize the potential of fish though many are cultivators. 2nd, how many are aware that fish is a large industry contributes around 1% to India’s GDP and over 5% to agricultural GDP. 3rd, fish could generate huge employment opportunities to serve as a boon for the state facing the unemployment menace. 4th, aquariums common found in Indian houses for decoration and religious reasons is an alluring business with Arunachal boasting for large varieties of ornamental fishes.

Hindus consider fish (Matsya) very lucky as the first incarnation of Lord Vishnu as per Puranas to ensure the continuity of life on the earth following the great floods and also to rescue the Vedas and sacred texts from the demon Hayagriva. The same aspect of Hinduism could also create large jobs to keep the interested youths engaged round the year by offering decent ways to earn livelihood. Why this has not been promoted by the lawmakers and policy makers of the state is intriguing!

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report “The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2018” says India’s per capita average fish consumption was between 5 to 10 kg (2013-15), Union MoS (Agriculture & Farmers Welfare) Krishna Raj had informed Lok Sabha on 08.01.19.

Fisheries and aquaculture is important food production sector providing nutritional security, livelihood support and gainful employment to more than 14 million people and contributing to agricultural exports. Total fish production during 2017-18 was estimated 12.60 million metric tonnes, constituting about 6.3% of global fish production. More than 50 types of fish and shellfish products are exported to 75 nations. Fish and fish products have emerged as largest group in agricultural exports with 13.77 lakh tones worth Rs. 45,106.89 crore.

Keeping in view of potential fisheries resources in aquaculture, inland fisheries, coastal & marine fisheries and substantial scope of export augmentation, the fisheries division of department of animal husbandry, dairying and fisheries of Union Agriculture & Farmers Welfare Ministry, has been implementing various schemes under “Blue Revolution Scheme” with Rs. 3000 crore allocation for 2015-16 to 2019-20 to improve livelihood of fishers. The Cabinet Committee of Economic Affairs had approved setting up of a dedicated Fisheries and Aquaculture Infrastructure Development Fund (FIDF) worth Rs.7,522 crore on 23.10.18 to develop infrastructures, like  fishing harbours, fish landing centres, fish seed farms, fish feed mills, plants, setting up of disease diagnostic and aquatic quarantine facilities, creation of cold chain infrastructure facilities such as ice plants, cold storage, fish transport facilities, fish processing units, fish markets, etc.

Interestingly, ornamental fishes or ‘live jewels’, most exciting and next to birds are probably the most cheerful living creatures. Aquarium has emerged as the second most popular hobby next to photography. With immense popularity of aquarium keeping in public places and households throughout the world, trading of ornamental fish species has become a lucrative business over the years, according to Journal of Aquaculture Research & Development.

Global annual turnover of ornamental fish trade now is about $ 10 billion with a growth rate of 6% per annum. Although India’s contribution to the global ornamental fish trade is meager (<1%) now, but India has a great potential to raise this export level to about Rs 150 crore annually, according to 2015 report on “Conservation and Management of Ornamental Fish Resources of North East India” of Biswas SP, Santosh Kumar Singh A, Das JN of life science department of Dibrugarh University.

The entire NE India is endowed with a vast expanse of fresh water habitats, mainly flood plain rivers including mighty Brahmaputra and adjoining wetlands (locally known as beels). Being in one of the highest precipitated zone in the world, the hilly states of Arunachal, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura and Meghalaya are having innumerable streams, lakes and a variety of aquatic habitats. The variety of micro-habitats, high diversity of biotic and abiotic components and the suitable climatic condition have made the NE as one of the world’s richest repository of ichthyofaunal resources. Moreover, floodplain lakes (beels) are other potential fishery resources in the NE and offer tremendous scope for both culture and capture fisheries. Vishwanath reported 296 fish species from NE region, which is about one-third of total freshwater fish species, found in Indian waters. However, Arunachal boasts of 157 varieties as recorded by Prof. D.N Das, RGU dean of zoology department.

However, the aquatic habitats especially in developing nations have witnessed rapid changes in their aquatic environment that has caused increasingly greater habitat degradation during the past few decades. Like in other parts of the world, the fish habitats of this part of the globe also degraded as a consequence of natural and ever increasing human interferences.

But there is no document to prove that Arunachal has benefitted from its vast nature gifted resources. It is high time for those who matter to channelize the youth energy to tap these vast resources to make Arunachal a fish exporter.

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