COVID-19 might prove to be a game-changer for India’s fisheries sector: Vice President

RSTV Bureau

The Vice President, Shri M. Venkaiah Naidu today opined that COVID-19 might prove to be a game-changer for India’s fisheries sector as the pandemic has made people conscious of adopting healthy dietary habits.

Addressing the scientists and staff at the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI) and Central Institute of Fisheries Technology (CIFT) in Visakhapatnam today, the Vice President said that the fish is a great source of protein and holds the key for reducing malnutrition in the country, especially in children. In this regard, he asked the health experts and nutritionists to bring awareness among the common people about the many benefits of having fish in our diet. “Fish is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are necessary for our body and good for cardiovascular health. This aspect needs to be popularized and conveyed to the common man”, he added.

Shri Naidu said that from the pristine waters of the Himalayas to a long coastline of over 8000 kms, India is blessed with vast aquatic resources. “These waters are endowed with a diversity of fish fauna that has been supporting the livelihoods of millions of people for many generations”, he added.

Noting that India ranks second in the world in total fish production, he said that there still is a lot of potential to be harnessed in both inland and marine fisheries. He further said that with a modest start from being a small scale industry, fisheries have grown to become a very important socio-economic force for our country over the past few decades and currently provides employment to nearly 15 million people on the Indian coast. India is the 4th largest exporter of fish in the world and the sector has been one of the major contributors of foreign exchange earnings, he said and added that India should aspire to become number one in export of fish.

Observing that with the growing population and the increasing demand for animal protein, the domestic requirement of fish is estimated to increase significantly, Shri Naidu called for bridging the gap in demand and supply of the annual fish production in India.

He opined that capture fisheries and deep-sea fishing alone cannot meet the demand and thriving marine fish culture is the way forward. Stating that over 8000 km of coastline offers immense potential for the development of mariculture, the Vice President said that cage farming is widely recognized as the most important technology in mariculture for increasing fish production. He lauded CMFRI and CIFT for good work in this regard and said that much more needs to be done.

Recognizing that for many years, the lack of availability of quality fish seed has been a major concern, Shri Naidu said that efforts by the research institutes mitigated this problem to an appreciable extent, but there is still huge scope for innovation in this area. Similarly, he called for the need to improve our value-addition to our fish, by maintaining the highest quality, consistency and reliability by bettergrading, quality assurance, and packaging of our product. The Vice President wanted the Indian mariculture to be diversified by investing in innovative products such as nutraceuticals and ornamental fish. Finally, we need to focus on reducing post-harvest losses by creating the required infrastructure like cold storage, he added. The Vice President also wanted municipal bodies to take special interest in creating clean and attractive fish markets.

Expressing concerns over the increasing frequency of extreme weather events caused by climate change, Shri Naidu said unfortunately its effect is mostly felt by the seas and oceans through sea-level rise, ocean warming, and ocean acidification. “All this is having an adverse impact on marine life and the human lives that depend on it”, he added.

Expressing concerns over the pollution of marine and freshwater, the Vice President said that discarded plastics, other residual waste and industrial chemicals eventually find their way into our water bodies with devastating consequences for aquatic life and the habitats they depend on.

He was also concerned about over-fishing with mechanized trawling and said that marine fisheries are over-exploited and a push is being made for deep-sea fishing. The small scale-fishers are the most affected, he added.

It is estimated that primary production of the global ocean is expected to decline further by 6% by 2100 and by 11 % in tropical zones.

Emphasizing the urgent need to tackle the issues of fisheries in India, the Vice President suggested a three fronts strategy namely- stainable management of resources and mitigation of the damage caused by climate change; improvement in value addition and post-production facilities for better price realization and leveraging technology to innovate in aquaculture and improve production capacities.

The Vice President appreciated the Government for taking many initiatives for fisheries such as Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana (PMMSY) and the upcoming National Fisheries Policy for an ecologically healthy, economically viable, and socially inclusive fisheries sector.

Shri Naidu further emphasized the need for enhancing the access to credit, developing cold chains and good upcountry market linkages, and providing better infrastructure for post-harvest storage, handling and value addition. “Ultimately, government efforts should be complemented by greater R&D support from the research institutes, increased private investment in fish and shrimp hatcheries, and establishment of aquaculture estates, feed mills and ancillary industries”, he added.

Please remember that the research conducted by you should translate into improving the lives of fishermen and benefit them, he told the scientists of CMFRI and CIFT. Appreciating the farmers for the record food grain output during the pandemic, Shri Naidu said “I salute the farmers including the fish farmers.”

The Vice President asked the research institutes can to encourage the small fishermen to adopt modern sustainable practices through innovative marine fish cultures and better extension programmes

Opining that with growing awareness about the health benefits of fish, and with the right inputs and technologies, he said that fish farming can become more lucrative in the coming years and lift the millions dependent on it out of poverty. That is the real objective of the ‘Blue Revolution’ initiative, he underlined.

Stating that our long coastline should be our strength and not our weakness, Shri Naidu called for exploring the waters once again, confidently, to feed our own people and as a leader and net security provider in the region.

The prior to interaction with the scientists, Vice President also visited the museums of CMFRI and CIFT in Visakhapatnam today and complimented both institutions for their excellent work in fisheries sector. This was the vice President’s first in-person visit to any scientific institution since the onset of Covid-19 pandemic. On this occasion he also dedicated snapper seeds to the nation.

Shri Muttamsetti Srinivasa Rao, Minister of Tourism Culture and Youth Advancement, Andhra Pradesh, Dr. A. Gopalakrishnan, Director, ICAR-CMFRI, Dr. R. Raghu Prakash, SIC, ICAR-CIFT Research Centre, Shri K. Muraleedharan, Institute Management Committee Member of ICAR-CMFRI, Shri Subhadeep Ghosh, Head, ICAR-CMFRI, Scientists and staff of CMFRI & CIFT were among the dignitaries who attended the event.