Kochi: India could play a major role in the $1 billion (Rs3,950 crore) ornamental fish trade, according to Alex Ploeg, secretary general of Ornamental Fish International (OFI), a global body representing all sectors of the ornamental aquatic industry .
Although Indian ornamental fish exports are hardly worth Rs6 crore in its overall marine exports of more than Rs8,000 crore, it can still become a hot spot. “The success of the industry thrives on novelty and India can tap its vast resources to be an important player in the trade,” he says.
Ploeg was in Kochi, attending the IndAquaria-08, a conference organized jointly by the government trade promotion body Marine Products Export Development Authority (MPEDA) and OFI. The event showcased more than a dozen large players in the industry from various parts of the globe.
“India, with its rich biodiversity in the north-eastern hills and Western Ghats, is yet to tap its full potential,” Ploeg says. “The focus has to be on native Indian species and proper breeding to ensure that quality material is exported.”
Ploeg is not the only one who believes in India’s potential. Rick Datodi, managing director of Australia’s largest aquarium fish wholesaler Aquarium Industries Pvt. Ltd and Iehisa Kawada, chairperson of the Japan Aquarium Fish Association, also say that India can emerge as a big supplier for ornamental fish.
To ensure proper breeding and quality through good broodstock, India needs to make huge investments, adds Ploeg. Another major issue challenging the Indian ornamental fish industry is logistics. “That perhaps explains why Singapore is still a big exporter of ornamental fish, sourcing the material directly from several countries, such as India and Sri Lanka, and then exporting them,” he says. “In fact, it is cheaper to get Indian fish from Singapore in Amsterdam than directly importing it from here.”
According to T.V. Anna Mercy, associate professor at the Kerala Agricultural University’s College of Fisheries, there are more than 300 species of fresh water fish in the Western Ghats alone, out of which 150 can be bred. Along with MPEDA, the college has begun developing a captive-breeding technology programme that has been quite successful. The strong dependence on wild collection can lead to over-exploitation, Mercy says.
Datodi says India has to learn from the Australian model, where the farms are owned privately, but controlled by the government, which fixes the norms and standards.
Kawada, who is also a director of Japan Ornamental Fish Importers’ Association, says India must develop proper breeding techniques and ensure that the material sent out is of very high quality if it wants to become a major player in the global market.
MPEDA has launched a set of initiatives to promote exports, where assistance is being provided to set up ornamental fish breeding units and marketing societies, says Kuruvilla Thomas, MPEDA director. It is a big business in China and the US, but none of them is exporting such fishes.