India is the second largest global fish producer after China in terms of aquaculture production. The present annual production from freshwater and brackish water aquaculture in India is estimated to be around 4.18 million tonnes and 0.25 million tonnes, respectively. Indian aquaculture has come a long way from being a traditional subsistence-level activity to a predominantly commercial enterprise in recent years, and plays a significant role as a source of food and nutritional security, poverty alleviation and overall rural development.
With diverse resources ranging from deep seas to lakes in the mountains and more than 10% of the global biodiversity in terms of fish and shellfish species, India has shown continuous and sustained increments in aquaculture production in recent years. The present scenario is that freshwater aquaculture, notably carp culture, is witnessing considerable growth with minor contributions from catfish and freshwater prawns. Similarly, the export-oriented shrimp aquaculture in coastal areas has also been growing in a rapid way.
Freshwater aquaculture, which represents about 84% of India's total production by volume, is the mainstay of Indian fisheries and aquaculture. Much of this contribution is from Indian major carps farmed through pond culture or raised in freshwater tanks and other water bodies. In fact, in India, the aquaculture sector started as a subsistence fishery amongst small and marginal farmers, subsequently, owing to export demand and other commercial gains, coastal aquaculture developed on a commercial scale with the involvement of enterprising entrepreneurs. Nevertheless, the aquaculture sector is dominated by small and marginal farmers who represent more than 90% of the industry, considering the farm holding and the number of farmers involved. Most of them are resource poor in terms of skills, financial capacity and other technical aspects.
About 40% of the available pond and tank resource of 2.36 million hectares is underutilised and the mean national pond productivity has remained at about 2.9 tonnes per hectare per year, despite production levels of 6-8 tonnes being realised by farmers in some parts of the country. This indicates vast scope for enhancement both by horizontal and vertical expansion of freshwater aquaculture. Shrimp aquaculture in coastal areas witnessed substantial growth during the early nineties with production levels reaching 140,000 metric tonnes during the beginning of this decade. However, on account of disease, the production level during 2008-09 declined to about 88,000 tonnes. Coastal brackishwater aquaculture is now on path to revival with the introduction of exotic SPF shrimp L. vannamei.
In India, fish is a very rich and cheap protein source that can be afforded by the common people. Domestic demand for fish in India is growing rapidly due to increased availability of fish, economic growth, rising population, shift in dietary patterns, tastes and preferences for high protein and nutritional content foods. The increase in supply will make fish more readily available to consumers at a cheaper price, which will in turn likely increase fish consumption. In fact, as per an estimate the domestic demand for fish is likely to grow at an annual rate of 2.5% between 2000 and 2020. The domestic demand for fish is likely to grow to around 8.46 million tonnes in 2020.The annual per capita fish consumption at national level is projected to grow from 5.6 kg in 2011 to 6.3 kg. in 2020. Thus, for meeting the future additional fish demand the aquaculture sector is key, given the stagnation of capture fishery resources. Aquaculture output is likely to grow at about 6-7% per annum and the higher share of aquaculture in total output of fish has been projected to rise from 52% in the year 2000 to 61% in the year 2020. Among aquaculture species, the Indian major carps and shrimp will emerge as great opportunities for the future fish supply scenario in India. The government has also given much emphasis on the creation of an additional supply of protein through the National Mission on Protein Supplements, in which aquaculture has found a prime place.
Aquaculture has long been seen as an important source of food fish for the masses. It has also been contributing substantially to economic growth as well as human welfare, considering its support to livelihood activities for a large section of the underprivileged population of India. Therefore, in the present context, and with the emphasis on sustainability, the objectives put forth in the AFSPAN serve as an impetus to ameliorate the socio-economic status of the small and marginal aqua farmers. The project thereby assists the country in identifying thrust areas for meeting the requirements of small and marginal aqua farmers and for taking forward the overall aquaculture sector.
The project is considered in the positive thinking of the Government to be giving an edge to country’s vision of fisheries development and management programmes, which aim to improve the sustainable production of food fish, contributing to food security and amelioration of the socio-economic conditions of the population.