India is a major fish producer in the world, ranking third. Fisheries and aquaculture provide food, nutrition, employment and income for millions. Fisheries and aquaculture form an important sector of food production in India. The sector contributes significantly to the food basket. This promising sector provides livelihood, employment and entrepreneurship to more than 2.8 crore fishers and fish farmers in India at the primary level and several lakhs along the value chain.

India is the third largest fish-producing country in the world. It produced 162.48 lakh tonnes of fish in 2021-22, contributing 8 per cent to the global fish production and ranked second in aquaculture production. Over the years, fish and fish products have emerged as one of the largest groups in agricultural exports of India. An all-time high achievement in marine export was recorded in 2022-23, with earnings totaling Rs. 63,969 crores, says Dr Bijay Kumar Behera, CEO of National Fisheries Development Board (NFDB).

He says the NFDB plays a crucial role in increasing sustainable and responsible fish production and productivity in the country by effectively promoting modern technology and utilising various resources in a coordinated, integrated and holistic manner.

The NFDB, he says, is committed to creating infrastructure facilities to bring a significant improvement in handling, preservation and marketing of fish. The main target is to boost production and productivity, improve livelihoods of fishers, promote entrepreneurship opportunities in fisheries and encourage consumption of fish through better availability.

In line with the motto of ‘Aatma Nirbhar Bharat’, the Government of India and the NFDB, with the support of research institutions and various organisations, are working tirelessly towards species diversification to address the challenges posed by market changes, resource fluctuations, food security issues and climate changes in the sector.

The major task is the holistic development of the fisheries sector through enhancement of fish production and productivity and, in the process, to accelerate the overall economy of the country, he says. As one of the largest fish-producing countries in the world, India accounts for 7.58 per cent of the global production. Contributing 1.24 per cent to India’s Gross Value Added (GVA) and 7.28% (2018-19) to the agricultural GVA, fisheries and aquaculture remain an important source of food, nutrition, income and livelihood to millions of people.

Going by official data, the fisheries sector in India has shown impressive growth with an average annual growth rate of 10.88 per cent during the 2014-15 to 2018-19 period. Figures show that fish production in India has registered an average annual growth of 7.53 per cent from 2014-15 to 2018-19 and achieved an all-time high of 137.58 lakh metric tons during 2018-19. The government’s statistics show that export of marine products stood at 13.93 lakh metric tons, valued at Rs 46,589 crores (USD 6.73 billion) during 2018-19 with an impressive average annual growth rate of about 10 per cent in recent years.

The marine fisheries potential is estimated at 5.31 million tons as against production of 4.17 million tons during 2018-19 – harnessing nearly 78 per cent of the estimated potential -and its activities are spread along the country’s vast coastline with 2.02 million square km Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and continental shelf area of 0.53 million sq km.

India is endowed with diverse inland fishing potential resources in the form of rivers and canals (1.95 lakh km), floodplain lakes (8.12 lakh hectares), brackish water (12.4 lakh hectares), reservoirs (31.5 lakh hectares) ponds and tanks (24.1 lakh hectares), and saline/alkaline affected areas (12 lakh hectares) with current estimated fish production potential of about 17 million ton as against production of 9.58 million tons during 2018-19 — harnessing only 56.3 percent of potential.

Thus, fisheries and aquaculture remain an important source of food, nutrition, employment and income for millions, especially the rural populations. In fact, the sector provides livelihood to about 25 million fishers and fish farmers at the primary level and twice the number along the value chain.

Fish is not only one of the healthiest options to mitigate hunger and nutrient deficiency, it is also an affordable and rich source of animal protein. It has immense potential to generate incomes and usher in economic prosperity to stakeholders. Hence it is essential that sustained and focused attention is given to the fisheries sector. Effective policies and financial support are required to boost its development in a sustainable, responsible, inclusive and equitable manner.

A majority of fisher folk directly depend on the sector, especially the small-scale and artisanal fishers who remain behind the national indices of socio-economic development. It is, therefore, important to provide requisite impetus towards amelioration of their poverty and backwardness and promote the holistic development and welfare of these marginalised and vulnerable communities.

The National Fisheries Development Board was established in 2006 as an autonomous organisation under the administrative control of the Department of Fisheries, Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry & Dairying, Government of India. The purpose was to ensure higher fish production and productivity in the country and to coordinate fishery development in an integrated and holistic manner.

A wide range of fishery development activities like intensive aquaculture in ponds and tanks, culture based capture fisheries in reservoirs, Coastal Aquaculture, Mariculture, Seaweed Cultivation, establishment of infrastructure, fishing harbours and fish landing centres, fishing dressing centres and solar drying of fish, domestic marketing, deep sea fishing and tuna processing, ornamental fisheries, trout culture, artificial reefs technology upgradation and capacity building of fishermen and fish farmers are being supported through state governments and different implementing agencies.

Thus, we see that fisheries is a sunrise sector playing an important role in the socio-economic development of millions of fisher folk in the country. With an estimated food grain production of around 280 MMT, agriculture is poised for sustained growth in India in the years to come. As a corollary, the growth and development in the fisheries sub-sector has also registered a rapid pace. Likewise, the demand for fish and fishery products is also growing within and outside the country, even outstripping the supply.

The Government of India in December, 2014, had launched ‘Blue Revolution’ Mission with a central outlay of Rs 3,000 crore. The scheme aimed at an integrated approach for the development and management of both marine and inland fisheries to ensure a sustained annual growth rate of 6-8 per cent in fish production.

The mission of the Neeli Kranti Mission (NKM) was to enhance fish production from 11.41 MMT in 2016-17 to 15 MMT by 2019-20 and 17.5 MMT by 2021-22. It was also designed to increase fish production and productivity by judiciously utilising the fisheries resources, and also doubling income of fishers and fish farmers in these five years.

The scheme focused on encouraging private investment, entrepreneurship development and better leveraging of institutional finance. Skill development and capacity building in fisheries and allied activities and creation of post-harvest and cold chain infrastructure facilities were also identified as key areas for achieving the targets.

The government recently announced a Rs 6,000-crore scheme to formalise the unorganised fisheries sector, facilitate institutional finance to micro and small enterprises and promote aquaculture insurance. It also decided to extend the Fisheries Infrastructure Development Fund (FIDF) for another three years, up to 2025-26, within the already approved fund of Rs 7,522.48 crore and budgetary support of Rs 939.48 crore.

The Union Cabinet, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, approved the Pradhan Mantri Matsya Kisan Samridhi Sah-Yojana (PM-MKSSY), a key sub-scheme of the Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana (PMMSY). The new scheme will be for fishermen, fish farmers, fish workers, micro and small enterprises, and fish farmers producers organisations, among others.

It aims to formalize fisheries while focusing on micro and small firms, with an investment of over Rs 6,000 crore spread across all states and union territories over a four-year period from 2023-24 to 2026-27 fiscal years. About 50% of this amount, or Rs 3,000 crore, will come from public finance, including World Bank and AFD external financing. According to an official announcement, the remaining 50% will be contributed by recipients and the commercial sector.

The government is also developing a ‘National Fisheries Digital Platform’ to empower 40 lakh small and micro-enterprises with work-based identities. It would help 6.4 lakh micro-enterprises and 5,500 fishery cooperatives gain access to institutional loans. It will address issues of aquaculture crop losses due to disease through insurance and enhance export competitiveness through value addition, value realisation and value creation. Besides, there will be a gradual shift from conventional subsidies to performance-based incentives in fisheries. The program would enable 55,000 targeted MSMEs to improve value-chain efficiency and ensure safe, high-quality fish.