INDIAN FISHERIES: THE SUNRISE SECTOR
Dr L Murugan
As India confidently marches ahead under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to become the third largest world economy , the fisheries sector has surged forward to take up the mantle in this journey. Thanks to Prime Minister’s ‘ Sewa, Sushasan and Gareeb Kalyan’ , the Indian fisheries in last nine years has emerged as a sunrise sector , firmly launching the country on the path of becoming a leading Blue Economy.
India, blessed with more than 8000km of sea shores, vast Exclusive Economic Zone , some of the biggest rivers and reservoirs , and importantly , hardworking human capital has always possessed the immense potential for fisheries development. But, perhaps the neglect, apathy and policy paralysis of previous regimes never allowed to realise it fully. Many reports indicate that, since independence upto 2014, the Central government could release a paltry sum of less than Rs 4000 Crore for fisheries development.
A fisherman, eulogized as the King of Ocean in many songs and tales, in reality struggled everyday to earn his livelihood. The legendary Tamil actor M G Ramchandran (MGR) in his movie ‘Padagotti’, sensitively captured this plight of the fishermen. The heart-wrenching depiction of the agony and struggles of fishermen, their exploitation and helplessness accentuated by the insensitive system made an indelible mark on the viewers.
It was the Prime Minister Narendra Modi who understood the immense potential of the Blue Economy for our fisher communities and decided to initiate systemic development of this sector. Under his leadership, the Central Government initiated a series of reforms through the Blue Revolution Scheme (2015-Rs 5000 Cr) and the Fisheries and Aquaculture Infrastructure Development Fund (2017-Rs 7522 Cr).
These schemes unleashed a series of activities in Indian Fisheries, creating ground level infrastructure, and touched the lives of 2.8 Crore fishermen. As the Indian fisheries started moving forward, Prime Minister Modi , in 2019, carved out a new Fisheries Ministry for its focussed development .
While Indian Fisheries was preparing for a big leap, suddenly the world came to a halt due to COVID-19 global pandemic. But, the leadership turned this crisis into an opportunity, and announced the Atmanirbhar Bharat package for the Fisheries sector, bringing in a Rs 20050 Crore Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana (PMMSY) in September 2020 , committing the biggest ever investment in the history of Indian Fisheries.
Thanks to this fresh chunk of investment and focussed attention, the PMMSY began to address the critical gaps in the fisheries value chain from fish production, productivity and quality to technology, post harvest infrastructure and marketing. It has identified key strategic priority areas: Marine Fisheries, Inland Fisheries, Fishermen’s welfare, Infrastructure and post-harvest management, cold water fisheries, ornamental fisheries, aquatic health management, sea weed cultivation among others.
The sustained efforts by the Central government involving the central/state government agencies and fishermen over last nine years, has dramatically altered the state of Indian fisheries. Core infrastructure like more than 107 Fishing harbours and Fish Landing centres which are essential for safe landing, berthing and loading-unloading are constructed/modernised. Modernisation of major fishing harbours at Cochin, Chennai, Mumbai, Vishakhapatnam and Paradeep has been activated.
The income of fishermen is directly linked to the Post harvest management of the crops i.e. how the fish is stored, preserved, transported and sold. With approvals given to more than 25000 fish transportation facilities, 6700 fish kiosks/ markets, and 560 cold storages, this fisheries infrastructure at grass root level is increasingly strengthened.
The fishermen face risks and hazardous working conditions in open seas. To mitigate these risks, approvals have been accorded for upgradation of 1043 existing fishing vessels, replacement of 6468 boats and 461 deep sea fishing vessels and for installation of 1 lakh transponders on marine fishing vessels , using satellite based communication.
The PMMSY pulled out inland fisheries from traditional waters , and infused technology , inspiring many talented and enterprising youth to venture into fisheries.
Today, young woman entrepreneurs from Kashmir valley are efficiently rearing cold water rainbow trouts using Recirculatory Aquaculture System. The Nellore aquapreneurs have become successful exporters, thanks to the biofloc cultivated shrimps.
The PMMSY has helped to expand the Fisheries to non-traditional areas . Almost 20000hectares of fresh pond area is being brought under inland aquaculture, and even landlocked Haryana and Rajasthan farmers are successfully converting their saline waste lands into wealth lands through aquaculture.
The PMMSY has empowered the fisher women to explore remunerative options and alternative livelihood, like Ornamental fisheries, pearl culture and seaweed cultivation . A recently launched Rs 127 Crore Seaweed Park in Ramanathapuram District of Tamil Nadu is a truly pioneering step by the Modi Government.
Seed, Feed and Breed are important components of the fisheries sector. The PMMSY has enabled 900 Fish feed plants, 755 hatcheries , and is supporting research and genetic improvement of Indian White Shrimp at Chennai, development of specific pathogen free brood stock and domestication of tiger shrimp at Andamans.
The welfare of fishermen and fishery entrepreneurs, and betterment of their lives are central to the Blue Economy objectives. Many measures like nutritional support to fishermen in lean and ban period, development of integrated coastal villages , hundreds of young Sagar Mitras for assisting fishermen, Group Accidental Insurance scheme , institutional financial support through Kisan Credit Cards are complementing to the comprehensive development of Indian Fisheries.
The Modi Government’s partnership with Indian fishermen has empowered them , giving them confidence and a sense of pride. The Fishermen across the country were invited to Independence Day Celebrations at Lal Quila, Delhi. This partnership is continuously bolstered by a direct interaction of the Fisheries Minister Parshottam Rupala with India’s fishermen, through a unique initiative of Sagar Parikrama- a 8000km journey by sea and coastal route to visit fishermen villages, meet and interact with fishermen, and witness the implementation of policies and projects on ground . Recently when the dark clouds of uncertainly hovered over the coastal aquaculture, the sensitive Modi government acted swiftly and brought the Coastal Aquaculture Amendment Act 2023, addressing the concerns of lakhs of people involved in the coastal aquaculture activities.
This September, as we celebrate the third anniversary of the PMMSY, one can see the changed outlook of Indian fisheries. India is counted among top three fish and aquaculture production countries, and the biggest shrimp exporter in the world today. The government has recently announced investment of Rs 6000Crores as a sub scheme under PMMSY, taking total investment for fisheries to more than Rs38500Crores in last nine years.
Today, Indian Fisheries production (174 lakh tonnes provisional figures 2022-23) and export earnings are at all time high. The cumulative fish production of last nine years since 2014 , is way ahead of the fish production of preceding thirty years (1984-2014). The shrimp production increased by 267% from 3.22 lakh tonnes in 2013-14 to 11.84 lakh tonnes in 2022-23. India’s sea food exports doubled from Rs 30213 Cr in 2013-14 to Rs 63969 Cr in 2022-23.
The Fishery ecosystem developed over last nine years is maturing fast, showing spectacular results, bringing the wealth to our fisher communities. As the developmental partnership between fishermen and Government getting stronger to harness the potential of the Blue Economy , I wish the late MGR was alive today. He would have definitely been happy to see how Prime Minister Modi, with his sincere efforts and clear vision, has been ably addressing the concerns of fishermen depicted in the movie ‘Padagotti’, and supporting them on the path of development through the mantra of ‘ Sabka Sath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas and Sabka Prayas’.
(The writer is Minister of State for Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying, and Information and Broardcasting, Government of India).