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Editorial Articles

Issue no 50, 12 - 18 MARCH 2022

Blue Economy: Promoting Holistic Approach for Sustainable Fisheries Interview


India's Blue Economy blueprint has been built on a foundation of transformation from the status quo to a development which incorporates the need to create wealth for equitable distribution while conserving our marine resources. Fish resources represent natural capital of the Blue Economy landscape and are potential sources of sustainable wealth and employment for the coastal, island and inland population. Speaking with S Rangbhashiam for Employment News, Dr C Suvarna, Chief Executive, National Fisheries Development Board, details the government plans and policies to restructure the Indian fisheries sector in line with the country's vision for unlocking the true potential of the Blue Economy.

Question: How does the fisheries sector stand to benefit from the government initiatives aimed at establishing the environment from which the Blue Economy will thrive?

Dr. C. Suvarna: The Indian fisheries sector is set in a unique and diverse set of resources ranging from the pristine waters of the Himalayas to the sprawling Indian Ocean. The fisheries biodiversity of the country encompasses a wide spectrum of physical and biological components that support the livelihoods of millions of people. Fisheries resources are set in different ecosystems. With growing population and the increasing demand for fish protein, the need for sustainable development of aquatic resources is now felt much more than ever before. To meet the compelling demands and to ensure the growth trajectory that fulfils the requirements of today and leaves an equally better prospect for tomorrow, a new National Fisheries Policy (NFP) is in the making. The NFP 2020 framework is based on the cardinal principles of equity and equality and one which adopts a people centric and participatory approach; mainstreams gender, and maintains inter-genera[1]tional equity. The policy offers a strategized way forward to develop, harness, manage and regulate capture and culture of fisheries in a responsible and sustainable manner. The policy will ensure a productive integration with other economic sectors, such as agriculture, coastal area development and eco-tourism, to meet the goals of the 'Blue Economy'. While center-state and interstate cooperation, socio-economic upliftment and economic prosperity of fishers and fish farmers, especially traditional and small-scale fisheries, are at the core of the policy, it also mirrors national aspirations and the developmental goals set before the nation.

Question: What is the role of NFDB in the overall scheme of the Blue Economy vision?

Dr. C. Suvarna: The NFDB's mandate is to realize the untapped potential of fisheries sector - inland and marine, fish culture, capture, processing and marketing of fish, while accelerating the overall growth of the fisheries sector with the application of modern tools of research and development. In conjunction with this mandate, the Board has implemented various schemes for develop[1]ment of cage culture, domestic marketing, ornamental fisheries, technology upgradation, sea[1]weed cultivation, wetland development, quality seed production, species diversi[1]fication, aquatic quarantine facilities, aquatic animal health laboratories, energy efficiency in fisheries and innovative activities. Besides, it has also funded various training and extension programmes for skill development of fishermen, fish farmers and fisheries officials.

Question: Tell us about the Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana (PMMSY).

Dr. C. Suvarna: The Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana (PMMSY) was launched at an estimated investment of Rs. 20050 crore comprising of Central share of Rs. 9407 crore, State share of Rs. 4880 crore and bene-ficiaries contribution of Rs. 5763 crore as part of the Aatmanirbhar Bharat package. The three broad focus areas of the scheme are:

i)                    Fish Production and Productivity: The objective is to increase fish production to 22 MMT by 2024-25 from 13.75 MMT in 2018-19; enhancing aquaculture productivity to 5 tonnes per hectare from the current national average of 3 tonnes, and augmenting domestic fish consumption from 9 kg to 12 kg per capita.

ii)                  Economic Value Addition: Increasing contribution of fisheries sector to the agriculture GVA (gross value addition) to about 9% by 2024- 25 from 7.28% in 2018-19; doubling export earnings to Rs 1,00,000 crores by 2024-25 from Rs 46,589 crores in 2018- 19; facilitating private investment and growth of entre[1]preneurship in the fisheries sector; and reduction of post[1]harvest losses from the reported 20-25% to 10%.

iii)                Enhancing Income and Employment Generation: Generating 55 lakh direct and indirect employment opportunities along the value chain; and doubling the incomes of fishers and fish farmers.

Question: One of the basic tenets of the Blue Economy is to generate gainful employment and entrepreneurship opportunities. How does the fisheries sector intend to attain this objective?

Dr. C. Suvarna: Fisheries sector has been recognized as a powerful income and employment generator as it stimulates growth of a number of subsidiary industries. Doubling fishers and fish farmers' income and genera[1]tion of employment are key objectives of the PMMSY. The scheme, to be implemented between FY21 to FY25, targets creating additional direct employment of 15 lakh fishers, fish farmers, fish workers, fish vendors in fishing and allied activities and 45 lakh indirect employment. Activities like Mariculture, Seaweed Cultivation and Ornamental Fisheries having potential to generate huge employment will be promoted. Moreover, technology develop[1]ments in fish processing offer scope for innovation, increase in productivity, increase in shelf life, improve food safety and reduce waste during proce[1]ssing operations. A large number of value added and diversified products both for export and internal market based on fish, shrimp, lobster, squid, cuttlefish, bivalves etc. have been identified. Branding, marketing and product diver[1]sification, by improving quality and attracting premium pricing and increasing share of value[1]added products, processing facilities, fishing harbours and fish landing also play a vital role. The PMMSY and the Fisheries and Aquaculture Infrastructure Development Fund (FIDF) have provisions for horizontal and vertical expansion of the sector by deploying human resources from field to national level, initiatives for enhancement of fish and shrimp production and productivity, infrastructure deve[1]lopment, harvesting, proce[1]ssing and marketing facilities, promote value addition to fisheries products, etc. End-to[1]end support is provided for all the stakeholders dependent directly or indirectly across fisheries value chains. Entrepreneurship develop[1]ment is given due emphasis and NFDB encourages entre[1]preneurs to develop various fisheries and aquaculture related projects in an inte-grated manner. To build adequate infrastructure, provisions are made for construc-tion of feed mills, ice plants, landing centres, harbour development, processing cons-truction of fish ponds, hatcheries, rearing units, etc. Need-based capacity building initiatives are being taken up for awareness building and improving skills of the target beneficiaries. The government is targeting for reduction of post[1]harvest losses from the reported 20-25% to 10%. Promotion of fish as healthy food and creation of consumer awareness about increased fish protein consumption are taken up in a major way for increasing domestic demand-supply for fish. Steps have been taken to encourage the sales of preserved and processed fish by creating demand for frozen fish in the national and international markets. Develop[1]ment of appropriate packaging material for fish and fishery products is being encouraged. Also, steps have been taken to facilitate export as well as promotion of domestic con[1]sumption of fish, Geographical Indication in fish, branding of fish like 'Himalayan Trout', 'Tuna' etc.

Question: To what extent is fishing beyond territorial waters permitted under international maritime law?

Dr. C. Suvarna: The Government of India issued the first set of guidelines on 01 November 2002 with the purport of ensuring proper conduct of the DSFVs (Deep Sea Fishing Vessels) in the Indian EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) and qualified the resource-specific fishing methods. The guidelines also defined deep sea fishing (fishing activities beyond 12 nautical miles from the shore line i.e. the Territorial Waters) and DSFVs (fishing vessels of 20-meter overall length and above). The territorial waters extend up to 12 nautical miles from the coast; EEZs extend up to 200 nautical miles from the coast.

Questions: What are the latest interventions of NFDB in promoting latest technology and equipment in fishing?

Dr. C. Suvarna: NFDB has provided financial assistance to the Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Aquaculture (RGCA), MPEDA (Marine Products Export Development Authority) for setting up of Aquatic Quaran[1]tine Facility at Neelankarai, Chennai, to help in quarantining the shrimp brood stock imported from other countries before they are supplied to shrimp hatcheries for seed production. NFDB has promoted various diversified species such as Cobia, Pompano, Lobster Fattening, Crab Fattening, Sea Bass, Pearl Spot, Murrel, Pangasius, Seaweed, Ornamental Fisheries, GIFT (Genetically Improved Farmed Tilapia ) etc., under the technical guidance of ICAR Fisheries Central Institutes on various projects by technology infusion programmes demonstrating through cage culture and recirculating acquaculture system (RAS). NFDB through its National Freshwater Fish Brood Bank (NFFBB) is maintaining good quality and/ or genetically improved fish brood-stock obtained from research organizations with proper package and management protocols and multiplication of these Genetically Improved Fish Species (GIFS) brood-stock in order to produce breeder seed and distribute these breeder seed (fry/ fingerlings) to accredited hatcheries as source for brood stock for further multiplication and supply to farmers to meet the quality seed demand across the states. NFDB has taken up projects such as National Disease Surveillance Program through NBFGR (National Bureau of Fish Genetic Resources) with the primary purpose to provide scientifically accurate, cost[1]effective information for assessing and managing risk of disease transfer associated with trade in aquatic animal and public health. Bio toilet, solar energy in fishing boats, infrastructure including boats, devices, equipment, replacement of old fishing boats with new boats with nets, boats with ice holding boxes and necessary gear are encouraged for modernisation of fishing.

(The interviewer is a senior Delhi-based freelance journalist).

Views expressed are personal