Transforming the fisheries sector

Pittala Ravinder

India is the second largest fish producer in the world after China. However, China contributes 60% to the world fish production as compared to a mere 10% by India. This is because India has never enforced any targeted thrust to achieve sustainable growth in the fisheries sector and does not even have a separate ministry.

But despite not having a marine coast and blessed with only inland water resources, Telangana is paving the way towards all-round development of its fisheries sector. The sector caters to the livelihood needs of about 40 lakh fishers’ population drawn from the most vulnerable rural communities from across the State. The State government has constituted a cabinet sub-committee to draft a detailed policy framework, which would be tabled in the next Assembly session.

Inland Water Resources

Telangana occupies the third place with regard to inland water resources with 77 large, medium and minor reservoirs, 4,647 major tanks vested with State Fisheries department and about 20,000 medium and minor tanks under the administrative control of the village gram panchayats, with a total water spread area of around 14 lakh acres.

It has a potential for producing about 10 lakh tonnes of fish per year. In 2014, the State produced a mere 2.46 lakh tonnes. According to a recent report by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), in 2017-18, this stood at 3.5 lakh tonnes. The increased produce was on account of the government’s scheme of supplying fish seed to fisheries cooperative societies free of cost and preservation of water in fish growing ponds.

Once Kaleshwaram and its allied projects come into being, likely by the next season in 2019, inland water resources would be increased. Kaleshwaram will create a large stretch of Godavari river bed right from Dummagudem to Sriramsagar, covering a length of 274 km into a fishing corridor. This is expected to generate a sizable employment potentiality and an estimated fisheries wealth of Rs 10,000 crore per annum.

Helping Hand

In an effort to alleviate fisherfolks from the clutches of fisheries mafia, including middlemen and contractors, the State government ventured into the distribution of fish seed to the fisheries societies free of cost, a first of its kind in the country. Under this, the department distributed 23 crore fishlings in 2015-16 and 52 crore in 2016-17. In the present season, it is targeting to distribute 82 crore at an estimated cost of around 100 crore. This initiative is expected to increase fish production to 5 lakh tonnes.

Earlier, fishermen cooperative societies used to enter into agreements with middlemen and contractors, who forced these societies to abide by the terms and conditions laid down by the investors. This unethical practice has now come to an end following the free seed supply programme.

The government had earmarked Rs 1,000 crore during FY18 and FY19 to strengthen the fisheries cooperative societies. It has taken a loan of Rs 800 crore from the National Cooperative Development Corporation and added Rs 200 crore from the State’s exchequer towards making it the Rs 1,000-crore assistance to the sector.

The department has prepared a detailed project report for the implementation of Integrated Fisheries Development Scheme (IFDS) through the Telangana State Fisheries Cooperative Societies Federation. The Telangana fisheries federation has around 4,000 primary fisheries societies with 3 lakh-odd registered members. Under the scheme, the federation offers 75-100% subsidy.

Blue Revolution

The Union government has integrated all its earlier programmes and schemes planned for fisheries and aquaculture development, both inland and marine, for the country under the umbrella of ‘Blue Revolution’. These will be taken up by the National Fisheries Development Board.

The objectives of the Blue Revolution include a three-fold increase in fish production by 2020; transforming the sector from its traditional customary practices to a modern industry with focus on technology and processes; doubling the income of fisheries and fish farmers by increasing productivity and adopting better post harvest practices.

In line with the Blue Revolution, the Telangana government is also implementing its integrated development and management of fisheries scheme with an outlay of Rs 20 crore this year.

Shaping Future

The department co-sponsored two mega events — international and national level — during the last two months that saw the participation of aquaculture and fisheries experts, scientists, traders, entrepreneurs and investors apart from the fishermen cooperative societies. The recent Partnership Summit also showcased the potential of the State in the sector.

The international event, jointly organised by the Society for Indian Fisheries and Aquaculture (SIFA) and Telangana Fisheries department, brought around 13 countries together and was touted as the first-ever International convention in South India.

Besides these, involving private entrepreneurs to introduce modern methods and new technologies in aquaculture, creating a fish marketing network and popularising fish food processing would help in transforming the sector. This when aided by Kaleshwaram and its allied projects would bring a sea change in the fisheries sector, catapulting the State as the fish basket of the country.

(The author is founder of Telangana Fisheries Society and member of World Aquaculture Society and Asian Fisheries Society)