Shyam Sunder looks quite worried these days. The fish farmer in Nayarambalam in Ernakulam district has been waiting for the truck carrying milkfish seeds from Rameshwaram in Tamil Nadu for the last four months. If the arrival is delayed further, he will be forced to abandon farming this season. In that case, he will incur a loss of minimum Rs 30 lakh.
For aquaculture fish farmers in Kerala, everything is certain and predictable except the seeds. Shyam alone needs one million milkfish seeds for his 20-hectare brackish water farm.
Fish farmers have to toil hard to get seeds from the south Indian States of Tamil Nadu, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. Advance booking is mandatory, but hatcheries will not dispatch the seed on time. Besides, the long hours for transportation has been affecting the quality of the seeds.
The scenario is all set to change soon with the Kerala government is gearing up to set up a multi-species fish seed production centre in Odayam in Thiruvananthapuram district.
The Kerala Fisheries Department’s Agency for Development of Aquaculture (ADAK) has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Chennai-headquartered Central Institute of Brackishwater Aquaculture (CIBA) to set up the multi-species fish hatchery.
CIBA functions under the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR). CIBA, which functions under the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare, will provide scientific and technical support to produce seeds of the high value brackishwater fishes, such as pearl spot, Asian seabass and milkfish.
Big boost for Kerala
Aquaculture experts said the seed production unit will enhance fish production, employment, livelihood generation, and will contribute to the nutritional and livelihood security.
Dr. K.K. Vijayan, Director of CIBA said the proposed hatchery will open up new opportunities in brackishwater aquaculture in the State. “It will help increase domestic fish production and provide employment opportunities,” he said.
Endowed with a brackish water area of 1.26 lakh hectares, Kerala has huge potential for domestic fish production.
Brackish water resources in Kerala are divided into three categories, namely brackish water creeks, pokkali farms and ponds. Farmers mainly prefer cage farming in open brackish water creeks and traditional farming in ponds.
Large tracts of Pokkali farms in central Kerala offer a rare opportunity for integrated farming of paddy with shrimp and fish varieties.
Seabass and pearl spot are the most sought-after fish species by cage farmers because of its high market value and profitability. At present, seabass is sold at Rs 600 per kilogram and farmers earn anywhere between Rs 250 and Rs 300.
Cage farming expert Shibu Joseph said a seed production centre in Kerala would reduce the input cost for farming. “It will reduce the huge transportation cost,” said Shibu, who farms seabass, pearl spot, giant trevally and red snapper in Kottappuram river in Kodungallur in Thrissur district.
“It is going to be a milestone in Kerala’s aquaculture. This will be beneficial to hundreds of farmers in my locality alone,” he said.
Abdul Jabbar, a fish farmer from Puthenvelikkara in Ernakulam district, said farmers can expect good quality fish once the unit at Thiruvananthapuram becomes operational. “Long hours of transportation often affects the quality of the seeds which, in turn, will have a greater influence in the growth of the fish,” said Jabbar.
“The seed production unit is going to be a game-changer,” he said.