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Assam's stake in India's Blue Revolution

Assam dreams of becoming self-sufficient in fish production by 2026.

Assam

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  7 Dec 2022 3:23 AM GMT

Assam dreams of becoming self-sufficient in fish production by 2026. It is a paradox that despite being endowed with a large number of wetlands and a vast river network of the Brahmaputra, Barak and their tributaries the state needs to procure fish every day from other states to meet its demand. If the wide gap between demand and supply is not bridged at a faster pace, the road towards the goal could be longer than anticipated. The Central government has set the target of increasing fish production in the country to 22 million tonnes by 2024-25 and each fish-producing state achieving their targets within this period is crucial. Because of its outstanding double-digit average annual growth of 10.87% since 2014-15, the fisheries sector in the country has been recognised as a Sunrise Sector. The country has achieved record fish production of 161.87 lakh tonnes in 2021-22. While Assam's annual production has also increased to 4.32 lakh tonnes in 2021-22 from 3.93 lakh tonnes in 2020-21 but the state still needs to procure 10-15 tonnes of fish daily from other states to meet its demand which results in huge cash outflow. According to official estimates, beels in Assam have a potential for fish production of more than 1000 kg per hectare annually but the production is less than 500 kg/Ha/per year. The degradation of the ecosystem of many beels due to siltation, pollution and other factors has also led to declining productivity. Failure to conserve these floodplain wetlands in Assam will lead to the permanent loss of a huge natural endowment of quality and nutrient local fish production. The river network in the state also has been playing a crucial role in providing livelihood to lakhs of fishermen but the indiscriminate sand mining has destroyed the ecology of several rivers in the state resulting in a decline in fish production not just in these rivers but also the floodplain wetland of these rivers. Fish stock in the Kulsi river, for instance, and Dora beel, famous for its natural stock of fish and huge fish production, has depleted posing a threat to the survival of the population of state aquatic animal-river dolphin, locally known as Xihu, of the river. The fish productivity of Dora beel has declined alarmingly as the flow regime of Kusli has changed due to the destruction of the river bed and the process of auto-stocking of fish seeds in the beel by the river has been adversely affected. The Fishery department has reportedly estimated a total requirement of about Rs 4,000 crore for the state to become self-sufficient in fish production. The trend of underutilization of funds released by the Central Government, however, indicates that the department needs to enhance its capacity for fund utilization so that the estimated fund required by it to implement the proposed action plan is judiciously utilized. Information furnished by the Central government in the Lok Sabha shows that, in the case of Assam, the project proposals for a total outlay of Rs 204.60 crore involving a central share of Rs 98.57 crore have been approved for Fisheries development during the financial year 2019-20, 2020-21, 2021-22, and a sum of Rs 80.08 crore has been released. The approved activities include the establishment of new freshwater finfish hatcheries, rearing ponds, grow-out ponds, stocking of fingerlings in wetlands, ornamental fish, Biofloc culture system, fish feed mill, fish marketing, etc. Till March this year, the state could utilize only Rs 16.71 crore which is reflective of the pace of fund utilization in the state for the development of fisheries and aquaculture. Assam achieving self-sufficient in the fish seed is good news, but the challenge is to make the best use of this achievement to augment fish production not just to meet its demand but also to supply to markets in other states for raising the income of level of fishermen and entrepreneurs engaged in fish production and marketing. An increase in local fish seed production helped the Fishery department to undertake the release of 29 lakh fish seeds in rivers of the state under the River Ranching Programme of the Prime Minister's Matsya Sampada Yojana. The key objective of River Ranching is to sustain and conserve the biodiversity in the river, facilitate regular stocking of fingerlings of cultivable carp to enhance productivity, increase fish production and enhance income and livelihood opportunities for communities dependent on these resources. This initiative can be expected to produce the optimal result only if the conservation of rivers by reducing pollution and preventing the destruction of river ecosystems are undertaken simultaneously. Conservation of floodplain wetlands and river systems in the state is also essential to conserve the cultural practices of indigenous communities associated with fishing and pisciculture. Assam achieving self-sufficiency in fish production should be a mix of the development of beel and river fisheries, conservation of local fish gene pool and artificial pond fisheries developed with hybrid fish seeds. The state harnessing its huge potential of generating livelihood through augmentation of fish production will make it a key stakeholder in the country's Blue Revolution.

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