Kochi: India will soon go in for green certification of ornamental fish that adorn aquariums and ensure that they are harvested sustainably.

Showing potential: India is eyeing a 10% share of the global ornamental fish market by 2015. Currently, global trade in such fish is at $22 billion. Ajayan / Mint

This was decided at a five-day international workshop held here last week andorganized by government trade promotion body Marine Products Export Development Authority (MPEDA).

MPEDA assistant director Anil Kumar said India recognizes the potential of trade in ornamental fish and has taken the lead in involving trading countries and organizations to formulate a green protocolthat will help conserve fish wealth and the environment, contribute to the well-being of local fishermen and ensurefair trade.

Currently, global trade in ornamental fish is estimated at about $22 billion (Rs1.08 trillion). Of this, India accounts for a mere Rs10 crore. MPEDA is targeting annual production of 500 million such fish (since these are typically small in size, they are not measured by tonnage) from the more than 300 freshwater indigenous species to help it achieve a 10% market share of sales by 2015.

Green certification or eco-labelling ensures that the capture is eco-friendly and does not damage natural habitats. It prohibits over-fishing that could lead to a precipitous decline in fish populations and extinction.

The Kochi workshop was aimed at formulating a protocol for green certification and fixing a quota for capture.

According to Alex Ploeg, secretary general of Ornamental Fish International, an organization of 44 countries, and where India is represented by MPEDA, close to 98% ofornamental fish are captured in the wild by locals, forwhom this is often the main livelihood.

Scot Dowd, senior aquarist at the New England Aquarium in Boston, US, said there was a need for eco-labelling of native species so that people buy fish grown in their natural habitat in a manner that protects the environment.

In India’s Western Ghats, as well as the Amazon region in South America, there are many species that are highly priced in the global market, Ploeg said, adding that there is need to limit their capture.

“It is here that governments need to step in and financially support projects aimed at green certification to ensure poverty alleviation of primary stakeholders or local fishermen and also conserve this fish wealth and its environs," Ploeg said. “If 10% of the households here go in for having an aquarium at home, the trade in ornamental fish can grow in leaps."

MPEDA’s Kumar said bio-commerce, which includes production, collection and marketing of fish caught from native habitats, and green certification are important for sustainable development of ornamental fishery.

Additionally, adequate quarantine systems have to be in place so that the fish have no contact with other aquatic animals to prevent them from being infected.

There is also a need for specialized flights to transport such fish, an advantage that currently lies with Singapore in this region, Ploeg said.