Pisciculture or fish farming is likely to bring relief for some of the state’s drought-prone regions with parts of Vidarbha and Marathwada, which were under the shadow of a severe dry spell till recently, already taking a lead in pisciculture activities across Maharashtra.
Buoyed by a good monsoon in 2016-17, the Maharashtra government has been encouraging pisciculture farmers to take up cultivation of fresh water fish found in water reservoirs. On October 17, 2016, the state’s fisheries department brought out a resolution to promote ‘cage culture’ in water reservoirs to boost fresh water fishing. ‘Cage culture’ is a practice of cultivating fish from fingerlings in a controlled environment, where water quality and fish food is constantly monitored.
“About 211 projects have been sanctioned in the past six months,” said a senior government official.
While Chief Minister’s home district, Nagpur, has bagged the highest number of projects at 51, senior officials said other Vidarbha belts, including Yavatmal, Wardha, Chandrapur, and Buldhana, also figure prominently on the list of places where pisciculture has been introduced.
About 41 projects have been taken up in the catchment of the Pavana dam in Western Maharashtra’s Pune. In North Maharashtra, projects have been sanctioned in Jalgaon district, officials said.
While senior government officials confirmed that only about a dozen of these projects were currently operational, the state appears to have drawn up an ambitious five-year plan.
“Nearly 1,200 water reservoirs are proposed to be tapped for pisciculture between 2016 and 2020. So far, about 10,128 cages have been approved for projects spread across 13 districts,” said an official. Explaining the reason behind the government’s push to the fish breeding method, the official said: “This method can yield up to 2.5 tonnes of fish in one cage per month.”
Currently, the state ranks fourth in the country in freshwater farming. It cultivates 1.5 lakh metric tonnes fish a year on an average. Officials said the plan was to push the state to the first position with the help of this expansion.
The cage culture method of inland breeding involves a cage made of nets, which is supported on a floating frame that is submerged in water, at least 6 metres deep, and thousands of fingerlings are released in the net. Two species of fish — red tilapia and basa — have been found to be the most suitable for this method of cultivation. “Once the fish grow up to 1 kg, they are removed from the reservoir and distributed,” the official said.
Another senior Mantralaya official said: “Each ‘cage’ can generate direct employment for 10 people. A project of 1,000 cages can generate 10,000 jobs and provide indirect employment to another 15,000 people.”
A fisheries department official said the move to promote pisciculture in the drought-prone and dry land farming-dependent regions was a ‘conscious’ measure to provide an ‘alternate source of income’ to the farmers.
Officials from the Maharashtra Fisheries Development Corporation (MFDC), meanwhile, said that farmers in the rain shadow belts were ‘early movers’ in tapping pisciculture activities since they have understood the potential of a sustainable alternate income source.
With a good monsoon forecast for 2017-18, pisciculture farmers have a reason to smile. Officials are banking on increased fresh water production this year. “A survey will be done at the end of 2017 to evaluate the economics of the cage culture project,” said a senior Mantralaya official. As a policy measure, the government has plans to encourage pisciculture activities in 1% catchment area across all water reservoirs.
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