The Interim Budget 2024-25 has highlighted stepping up of the implementation of the Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana (PMMSY). This is to enhance the development of climate-resilient aquaculture, mariculture, increase exports and generate employment opportunities. In the past 10 years, fish production has registered an average annual growth rate of 8 per cent. It touched an all-time high of 175.45 lakh tonnes in 2022-23, as compared to 95.79 lakh tonnes in 2013-14 (with 75 per cent production contributed by inland fresh, brackish and saline-water fisheries). More importantly, the fish productivity increased to 4.7 tonnes per hectare in 2022-23 from 3 tonnes in 2013-14. On the other hand, our seafood exports, with the primacy of frozen shrimps, have seen a 111 per cent increase.
In this context, innumerable success stories have been nurtured under the PMMSY. Through the latter and with the cooperation of state/UT governments, critical gaps in fisheries’ development have been plugged for more than 2.8 crore fishermen/fish farmers at the primary as well as secondary levels. Somya Sathyanarayana, for instance, is a fish farmer from Karnataka who has successfully adopted the ‘Recirculatory Aquaculture System’ technology to produce high-value fish such as tilapia. This technology enhances stocking density and saves water. Navkishar Gope, a fish farmer from Jharkhand, has taken up cage culture to produce pangasius fish, where the focus is laid on feeding, water exchange and timely harvest. Kuldeep Kaur is a fish farmer in Sirsa, Haryana, who has adopted shrimp farming in one-hectare ponds in saline soils.
A critical factor in the fisheries’ growth story is the focus on infrastructural projects such as fish harbours and landing centres in coastal states. Sustained attention has been paid to stock replenishment of fish through the promotion of sea/river ranching and construction of artificial reefs. At the same time, impetus has been given to several welfare initiatives for fishermen and women. These include the grant of livelihood support during the fish breeding ban periods, higher accident insurance cover and availability of institutional credit support through the Kisan Credit Card to the fisheries’ sector. The PMMSY has enabled a ‘whole of government approach’ to fuel such holistic growth.
Experts also emphasise some other key issues to strengthen the expansion of the sector, both inland and marine, with livelihoods of small-scale fishermen/fish farmers as the focal point. First, the adoption of cluster- or area-based approaches to enhance competitiveness and economies of scale. The initiation of Aquaparks is testimony to the adoption of this approach. These parks have been conceptualised on the hub-and-spoke model as centres of production of quality fish brood, seed, feed, post-harvest processing infrastructure, business logistics etc. These parks will also create alternative livelihood avenues in areas such as seaweed, ornamental fish and pearl cultivation. Such parks are coming up in Tamil Naidu, Arunachal Pradesh, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Uttarakhand.
Second, the creation of a robust environment for private sector participation through entrepreneurship and innovation by promoting startups. Zaara Biotech is an example of a startup that has been incubated to develop seaweed and algal-based products. These products are being sold through e-commerce platforms and exported as well to the UK, Australia and Japan. Several such startups are deepening their presence in areas of disease detection, water quality monitoring and automated feed systems.
Third, the effective collectivisation of fishermen and fish farmers through producer organisations and cooperatives to increase their bargaining power. Aurofish is an example of a cooperative with a network of 20 fishers, promoted by Anitha Muthuvel in Puducherry. The cooperative sources fish responsibly and markets ready-to-eat products. Efforts are also on to connect such cooperatives and fish producer organisations to the Open Network for Digital Commerce. Fourth, the promotion of deep-sea fishing with technologically advanced fishing vessels, with enhanced communication systems. While Cochin Shipyard has produced such modern vessels, the Indian Space Research Organisation has developed indigenous transponders for SOS signalling, identification of fishing potential zones and real-time communication. Sustainable fishing and hygienic berthing at harbours need to be coupled with the safety of fishermen at sea.
Fifth, well-structured fisheries’ extension support services that reach out to the last mile. The involvement of youth as ‘Sagar Mitras’ in coastal districts has been initiated, both for outreach and survey of fish catch at harbours and landing centres. In addition, ‘Sagar Parikrama’ is a landmark initiative launched in coastal districts with the aim of bringing the highest echelons of government officials to the fishermen’s doorsteps through community engagement.
Experts also contend that the fisheries’ management and regulatory framework should effectively deliver towards ease of doing business. The Coastal Aquaculture Authority (Amendment) Act 2023 has simplified the processes of farm and hatchery registration. It also focuses on disease monitoring, keeping in view the need to increase shrimp exports and promote mariculture. In addition, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research continues to pioneer research in fish genetic improvement, species diversification and the impact of climate change on fisheries. To step up the implementation of the PMMSY, the Union Cabinet has approved a Rs 6,000-crore sub-scheme with World Bank support. This will leverage digital technologies to create work identities. Through this approach, micro- and small enterprises, including startups, will be incentivised to take up measures to strengthen their value chain efficiency and traceability mechanisms. Enhanced access to institutional credit and incentives to take up crop insurance will also be a focus area. This will prove to be a game-changer for this ‘sunrise sector’ that is a major contributor to India’s livelihood and nutritional security.