Kochi: Targeting more than 1 million tonnes of fish production through aquaculture in the 11th Plan, the government trade promotion body, Marine Products Development Authority (MPEDA), will promote cage farming, prevalent in Vietnam and Scandinavian countries.
As per a memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed recently by MPEDA with the Norwegian state-owned Innovation Norway, the latter will lend technical assistance for the promotion of cage culture in India. Norwegian experts, after a survey of Indian waters for more than a year, have begun the cage farming on a trial basis in the Andamans, Ratnagiri in Maharashtra and Padana in Kasargod district of Kerala, said G. Mohankumar, MPEDA chairman.
Cages made of wood or steel frames, covered with mesh or nets, are kept immersed in natural water bodies. Little fish, or fingerlings, of different varieties such as sea bass, grouper or cobia are put into these cages and provided with feed regularly till they grow to a marketable size of 6-8 inches.
Other than shrimping (fishing for shrimp), the Indian marine industry currently uses aquaculture only for shrimp production, which accounted for 175,000 tonnes during 2006-07. The goal now is to tap the abundant water bodies, including the backwaters, estuaries and offshore sea for growing other fish varieties, which should comprise 50% of the total aquaculture production over the next five years, Mohankumar said.
MPEDA director Vishnu Bhat said there has to be a study on water quality, current and depth before cage farming can begin. While it may not be possible for India to have large cages, as in Norway or some other Scandinavian countries, that can hold around 4,000 fish of sizes ranging from 6-8 inches because the process is extremely capital-intensive, MPEDA plans to have smaller cages, which can hold up to 200 fish.
Estimates point to an initial capital investment of Rs6.2 lakh per cage that can last for at least five to six seasons. The average season is around eight months during which the fingerlings grow. Annual income from each cage, calculated on conservative levels, could be around Rs12,500 and a hectare of water area could hold nearly 100 cages. Since no antibiotics are used, these fish can fetch higher prices, said Bhat. There are also wood cages, used mainly in Vietnam that are much cheaper but do not last for more than three seasons.
A.J. Tharakan, national president of the Seafood Exporters Association of India, pointed to the success of Vietnam, which earns a revenue of $1 billion (Rs4,050 crore) from cage culture. Given the several deep water bodies across India, there is a need to promote cage farming. India also has several fish processing factories that are working to hardly 30% of their capacity because of a lack of raw materials. The new move would benefit the fishing industry, bring revenue and also provide stable income to fisherfolk during lean periods, Tharakan added.