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Fish farming in India

Fish Farming in India

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Fish Farming in India

Fish farms or fish farming is a form of aquaculture. The act of fish farming is about raising fish commercially in tanks or enclosures for human consumption. There are different types of fish farms that utilize different aquiculture methods.

Fish farming is a form of aquaculture in which fish are raised in enclosures to be sold as food. It is the fastest growing area of animal food production. Today, about half the fish consumed globally are raised in these artificial environments. Commonly farmed species include salmon, tuna, cod, trout and halibut. These “aqua farms” can take the form of mesh cages submerged in natural bodies of water, or concrete enclosures on land.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, roughly 32% of world fish stocks are overexploited, depleted or recovering and need of being urgently rebuilt. Fish farming is hailed by some as a solution to the overfishing problem. However, these farms are far from benign and can severely damage ecosystems by introducing diseases, pollutants and invasive species. The damage caused by fish farms varies, depending on the type of fish, how it is raised and fed, the size of the production, and where the farm is located.

One significant issue is that—rather than easing the impact on wild populations—the farms often depend on wild fish species lower on the food chain, like anchovies, in order to feed the larger, carnivorous farmed species. It can take up to five pounds of smaller fish to produce one pound of a fish like salmon or sea bass. Overfishing of these smaller “forage” fish has repercussions throughout the ocean ecosystem.

As is the case with industrial animal farms on land, the fish are often housed in unnaturally crowded and cramped conditions with little room to move. Fish may suffer from lesions, fin damage and other debilitating injuries. The overcrowded and stressful conditions promote disease and parasite outbreaks—such as sea lice—that farmers treat with pesticides and antibiotics. The use of antibiotics can create drug-resistant strains of diseases that can harm wildlife populations and even humans that eat the farmed fish.

Escaped fish introduce yet another threat into the environment. Each year, hundreds of thousands of fish escape farms and threaten the genetic diversity and survival of native species. High stocking densities result in a significant amount of pollution from fish excrement and uneaten food, which in turn lead to poor water quality high in ammonia and low in oxygen. Outdoor fish farms can also attract predatory marine animals, such as sea birds and sea lions, who are sometimes poisoned or shot by aquafarmers for eating the fish.

Despite evidence to the contrary, it is still a common misconception that fish do not feel pain. Slaughter methods in the aquaculture industry are appalling. Little to no attention is given to the suffering of the animals and most are fully conscious during slaughter, which can take many minutes. Some species, such as salmon in the United States, are also starved for many days to empty the gut before they are sent to slaughter. Fish are most often not stunned and are killed by bleeding out, being hit on the head repeatedly, suffocating or freezing. In the US, as with many other countries, there are no regulations to ensure the humane treatment of fish.

Years of unregulated and underreported catches of Bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean are threatening the existence of this severely overfished species. To meet the high and growing demand for sushi in Japan and elsewhere, ranching of Bluefin tuna is becoming a popular industry and is exacerbating the problem. Fisherman use long lines and purse seines to catch the tuna before they reach breeding age and have time to reproduce. They are then kept in sea farms for 3–6 months and fattened with thousands of pounds of smaller wild-caught fish before being killed and exported.


The first method is the cage system which uses cages that are placed in lakes, ponds and oceans that contain the fish. This method is also widely referred to as off-shore cultivation. Fish are kept in the cage like structures and are “artificially fed” and harvested. The fish farming cage method has made numerous technological advances over the years, especially with reducing diseases and environmental concerns. However, the number one concern of the cage method is fish escaping and being loose among the wild fish population.

The second method is irrigation ditch or pond systems for raising fish. This basic requirement for this method is to have a ditch or a pond that holds water. This is a unique system because at a small level, fish are artificially fed and the waste produced from the fish is then used to fertilize farmers’ fields. On a larger scale, mostly in ponds, the pond is self-sustaining as it grows plants and algae for fish food.

The third method of fish farming is called composite fish culture which is a type of fish farming that allows both local fish species and imported fish species to coexist in the same pond. The number of species depends, but it is sometimes upwards of six fish species in a single pond. The fish species are always carefully chosen to ensure that species can coexist and reduce competition for food.

The fourth method of fish farming is called an integrated recycling system which is considered the largest scale method of “pure” fish farming. This approach uses large plastic tanks that are placed inside a greenhouse. There are hydroponic beds that are placed near the plastic tanks. The water in the plastic tanks is circulated to the hydroponic beds, where the fish feed waste goes to provide nutrients to the plant crops that are grown in the hydroponic beds. The majority of types of plants that are grown in the hydroponic beds are herbs such as parsley and basil.

The last type of fish farming method is called classic fry farming this method is also known as “flow through system”. This is when sport fish species are raised from eggs and are put in streams and released.

There are a number of different fish species that are raised on fish farms, the most common fish spices raised are salmon, carp, tilapia, catfish and cod.

Catfish farming

Catfish are easy to farm in warmer climates. Catfish are predominantly farmed in fresh water ponds and fed mostly soybeans, corn and rice. Catfish are often considered one of the more sustainable fish specifies for fish farming purposes. Cultivating catfish first began in the 1900s and became commercialized in the 1950s. Catfish is populous because of its health benefits and market demand. Farm-raised catfish are usually harvested at 18 months of age where as wild catfish usually get much bigger. There are a number of catfish species, but the three most prominent ones are blue catfish, channel catfish, and flathead catfish.

Tilapia farming

Tilapia is the third most popular fish used in fish farming or aquaculture, with the first two being carp and salmon. They have increased in popularity due to their high protein, large size and growth capabilities. Tilapia is a tropical fish that requires warmer water to survive. The ideal water temperature is usually between 28 to 30 degrees C. Tilapia fish are known to reproduce rapidly and this is a challenge for managing tilapia fish species for farming use. If not managed properly, fish will aggressively compete for food which may result in stunted growth. Therefore, males are almost used exclusively. Tilapias are resilient towards fighting off diseases and parasites. Tilapia fish farming originated in Africa and is popular in Honduras, Papua New Guinea, Philippines and Indonesia. Tilapia fish require a cereal-based diet and don’t eat other fish, but they are also considered to be one of the most invasive fish species.

Salmon farming

Salmon is one of the most popular fish species with the most commonly farmed being Atlantic salmon. There are two other varieties of Pacific salmon that are also farmed – Chinook and Coho. Farmed salmon are vaccinated to prevent disease outbreaks and only on rare occasions do they require additional medications. There are often questions about the different colours between wild and farmed salmon – farmed salmon aren’t dyed, their colour comes from their food. Salmon feed is made to conserve wild fish stocks.

Tuna farming

Tuna fish are saltwater fish and are important in the commercial fish farming industry. Japan is the biggest consumer of tuna and has invested a significant amount of research into studying the fish. There are different species of tuna including, bluefin, yellowfin, and albacore. Bluefin tuna populations have dropped significantly in some regions due to over fishing. Farming tuna is complex as the fish are “massive” and are very active - so simulating their natural environment is extremely difficult. Most tuna for human consumption are caught in the wild and raised in a facility to increase weight gain. Tuna are carnivorous and eat other fish. Tuna are typically farmed in net pens offshore and in some cases are farmed in recirculation systems.

Eel farming

Eel fish farming emerged in the early 1950s and it is considered one of the most profitable in terms of export value in the fishing industry. However, the profit value is largely driven by the Asian markets and is culture specific. Eels are a carnivorous and catadromous fish, which means that when they are young they live in fresh water, but as they mature they migrate to the sea for breeding –spending anywhere from 8 to 30 years in freshwater before they migrate. The majority of eel farming takes place in Asia, with China, Japan and Taiwan leading as the biggest producers. Glass eels are preferred over levers because they are easier to transport and wean onto artificial diets. Eel farming can take on one of two different forms – high intensity recirculating tank (indoors) or intensive pond facilities.

Aqua farming

Aquaculture is also known as “aqua farming” which relates to the farming of aquatic organisms such as fish. The farming aspect of aqua farming implies some aspect of intervention into the natural growing process to enhance production. According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization – aquaculture has grown three times faster compared to land-based animal agriculture.

Fish farming supplies

Fish farming supplies are needed for the aquaculture industry. The supplies can range from feed and feeders, filtration systems, hatchery supplies, heating and cooling systems, lighting, hydroponics equipment, pluming, predator control, tanks and water treatment products just to name a few.

Feed and feeders Feed quality is important in fish farming and is vital to fish health. Depending on the feed that is given, it can help with desirable colour, growth and overall health and well-being. There are a wide variety of different feeds that are suited to different types of aqua-farming methods and species.

Water Filtration Systems Water filtration systems are important when attempting to mitigate environmental impacts. Filtration involves the removal of waste products from the water. There are a number of different types filtering systems that can be used, but it often depends on the state of the filtration process. It is important to have a staging filtration system that will ensure most optimal results.

Hatchery supplies Hatchery supplies include anything from fish graders, shipping supplies to spawning and handling containers.

Predator control Predator control tools are used in the fish’s habitat, which often includes the use of physical deterrents which may include visual and audio deterrents.

Indoor fish farming

Indoor fish farming is the alternative to cultivating fish outdoors in a cage system. With the emergence of technological advances, raising fish indoors is now possible using proper control production methods. Indoor fish farming is often very sophisticated and in some cases allow for automatic collection and processing of fish wastes into crop fertilizers. There are advantages and disadvantages to indoor fish farming:

Advantages to indoor fish farming

• Fish are protected from predators and weather changes.

• Fish are often produced faster through temperature control, water quality and feeding practices.

• Indoor fish farming is often considered more environmentally friendly because it requires less water and produces less waste.

• Avoids the chance of fish escaping and getting loose amongst wild fish populations.

• Allows higher stock densities and often saved farm labour input costs.

• It often allows greater flexibility for facility locations, which can save transportation costs if facilities are located near markets.

Disadvantages to indoor fish farming

• Requires electricity input costs.

• Requires infrastructure set-up which often requires a significant amount of startup capital.

• Fish raised indoors are carnivorous, which requires the capture of large amounts of other fish for their diet. 

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All about fish farming in India

Indian fisheries and aquaculture is an important sector of food production, providing nutritional security to the food basket, contributing to the agricultural exports and engaging about 14 million people in different activities. 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 since independence, the country has shown continuous and sustained increments in fish production. Constituting about 6.3% of the global fish production, the sector contributes to 1.1% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 5.15% of the agricultural GDP. The total fish production of 10.1 million metric tonnes presently has nearly 65% contribution from the inland sector and nearly the same from culture fisheries.  The annual carp seed production is to the tune of 25 billion and that of shrimp about 12 billion, with increasing diversification in the recent past. Along with food fish culture, ornamental fish culture and high value fish farming are gaining importance in the recent past. 

Export potential

Fish and fish products have presently emerged as the largest group in agricultural exports of India, with 10.5 lakh tonnes in terms of quantity and ` 33,442 crores in value.  
This accounts for around 10% of the total exports of the country and nearly 20% of the agricultural exports. More than 50 different types of fish and shellfish products are exported to 75 countries around the world. 

 Global position 

3rd in Fisheries, 2nd in Aquaculture 

 Contribution of Fisheries to GDP (%) 


 Contribution to Agricultural GDP (%) 


 Per capita fish availability (Kg) 


 Annual Export earnings (Rs. In Crore) 


 Employment in sector (million) 



Farming systems based on aquaculture 

Aquaculture resources in India include 2.36 million ha of ponds and tanks, 0.798 million ha of flood plain lakes plus in addition 195 210 km of rivers and canals, 2.907 million ha of reservoirs and that could be utilized for aquaculture purposes. Ponds and tanks are the prime resources for freshwater aquaculture; however, only about 40 percent of the available area is used for aquaculture currently. Ponds in eastern India are typically homestead ponds of less than 1 ha in size, while the watersheds in western India are larger covering expanses of between 15–25 ha each. In northern India, open waters with in-flows are common, while southern India has watersheds, termed as tanks, largely used for crop irrigation. In several parts of the country ponds and tanks are state-owned or communal and are leased out for periods of 3–5 years.

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Integrated farming system for one ha 

Cropping (0.90 ha) + fishery (0.10 ha) + poultry (50 layers) + 5 kg oyster mushroom production/day. 

Rice-Gingelly-Maize and Rice-Soybean-Sunflower in 0.90 ha + polyculture fish rearing (0.10 ha), Pigeon (100 pairs) and 5kg mushroom production per day 

Goat (20 female + one male) + fish (400 numbers of polyculture) + improved cropping system for wetlands 

Integration of cropping in 0.90 ha with fishery in 0.10 ha, 50 layers of poultry and 5 kg oyster mushroom production per day will result in higher net return of Rs.35,000/ha/year (or) Integration of Rice-Gingelly-Maize and Rice-Soybean-Sunflower in 0.90 ha with 0.10 ha polyculture fish rearing, 100 pairs of pigeon and 5 kg mushroom production per day could result in higher return of Rs. 88, 700 in one ha farming with additional employment of 300 man days/year. The highest net return of Rs. 1,31,118 could be possible by integration of goat (20 female + one male), fish (400 numbers of polyculture), along with improved cropping system for wetlands.

It has been estimated that about 1.2 million ha of potential brackish water area available in India is suitable for farming. In addition to this, about 9.0 million ha of salt affected areas are also available. However, in shrimp culture, only 15% of the potential area has been put into culture purpose. The farming of shrimp is largely dependent on small holdings of less than 2 ha, these farms account for over 90% of the total area utilized for shrimp culture. Many of the farm holdings located in Kerala and West Bengal belong to the traditional systems of shrimp farming.  

Freshwater aquaculture activity being an important activity expanded its dimension in terms of area coverage and intensity of operation, with Andhra Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Maharashtra etc, taking up fish culture as a commercial farming enterprise. Of late, scientific carp farming is picking up in the north-eastern states of India. Brackish water aquaculture is mainly concentrated on the coasts of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Orissa and West Bengal. With regards to the market, while the main areas of consumption for freshwater fish are in West Bengal, Bihar, Orissa and northeastern India. Cultured brackish water shrimps are destined mainly for export. 

Non-conventional culture systems 

Sewage-fed fish culture and rice paddy-cum-fish culture are two important culture systems practiced in certain areas of the country; sewage-fed fish culture in bheries in West Bengal is an age-old practice. About 5,700 ha are currently being utilized for fish culture using the input of primary-treated sewage and produce over 7,000 tonnes of fish per annum, mainly consisting of the major and minor carps. The culture system usually involves multiple stocking and multiple harvesting approaches, with harvest size usually in the range of 300–500 g. Though stocking densities of 7,000–10,000 of advanced fingerlings per ha is prescribed. Normally, multiple stocking and multiple harvesting is adopted and fishes are reared for 3-5 months, depending on the growth of the fishes to reach marketable size of 250-400 g.  

Paddy-cum-fish culture is undertaken in medium to semi-deep water rice paddy fields in lowland areas with fairly strong dykes to prevent the escape of cultivated fish during floods, trenches and pond refuges in the paddy fields provide shelter for the fish. The modern concept of paddy-fish integration with rice-fish plot, digging of peripheral trenches, construction of dykes, nutrient utilization of pond refuge and sowing of improved varieties of rice and release of fish in trenches, resulted improved the yield of rice and fish. Fish ponds receive the crop residues as pond input.

Cultured fish species 

While carp form the most important species farmed in freshwater in India, it is the shrimp from the brackish water sector which contributes the bulk of the production. The three Indian major carps, namely, catla (Catla catla), rohu labeo (Labeo rohita) and mrigal carp (Cirrhinus mrigala) contribute over 90% of the total Indian aquaculture production. Introduced during the 1970’s into the carp polyculture system in the country, three exotic carps, namely, silver carp (Hypophthalmichthys molitrix), grass carp (Ctenopharyngodon idellus) and common carp (Cyprinus carpio) now form a second important group.

Among the catfishes, Philippine catfish, 'magur' (Clarias batrachus) is the only species that has received a lot of attention. Stinging catfish, 'Singhi' (Heteropneustes fossilis) is another air-breathing catfish species being cultured to a certain extent in swamps and derelict water bodies, especially in the eastern states. In recent years, attempts have been made to develop the culture of fishes like Pangasius pangasiusPangasius sutchiOreochromis niloticusOmpok pabda etc.

The other finfish species of importance include climbing perch (Anabas testudineus), murrels (Channa striata and C. marulius), etc. Among the freshwater prawns, the giant river prawn (Macrobrachium rosenbergii), is the most important species followed by the monsoon river prawn, M.malcolmsonii.

The brackish water aquaculture sector is mainly supported by shrimp production, as well as, the giant tiger prawn (Penaeus monodon), which is responsible for the bulk of production followed by the recently introduced whiteleg shrimp, Penaeus vannamei. In fact, the culture of this shrimp picked up on par with tiger shrimp in very short span of time. Although India possesses several other potential species of finfish and shellfish, the production of these, is still very low key. In seawater, the major farmed species are the green mussel (Perna viridis), Indian brown mussel (Perna indica), Indian backwater oyster (Crassostrea madrasensis), Japanese pearl oyster (Pinctada fucata) and seaweed species like Gracilaria edulis

Future prospects 

The Ministry of Agriculture of the Government of India has a Department of Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Fisheries with a Division of Fisheries as the nodal agency. This agency is responsible for planning, monitoring and the funding of several centrally sponsored developmental schemes related to fisheries and aquaculture in all of the Indian States. Most of the states possess a separate Ministry for Fisheries or else it remains within the Ministry of Animal Husbandry. All states have well-organized fisheries departments, with fisheries executive officers at district level and fisheries extension officers at block level, who are involved in the overall development of the sector. However, the administrative structure at state levels varies from state to state. Centrally sponsored schemes like the 422 FFDAs cover almost all districts in the Country and the 39 BFDAs in the maritime districts have also contributed to aquaculture development. 

The Indian Council of Agricultural Research located within the Department of Agricultural Research and Education, which in turn is within the Indian Ministry of Agriculture, has a Division of Fisheries, which undertakes the R&D on aquaculture and fisheries through a number of research institutes. There are about 695 Krishi Vigyan Kendras (Farm Science Centres) in the Country, operated through State Agricultural Universities, ICAR Research Institutes and NGOs, most of which also undertake aquaculture development within their scope of activities.

Aquaculture over recent years has not only led to substantial socio-economic benefits such as increased nutritional levels, income, employment and foreign exchange, but has also brought vast un-utilized and under-utilized land and water resources under culture. With freshwater aquaculture being compatible with other farming systems, it is largely environmentally friendly and provides for recycling and utilization of several types of organic wastes. Over the years, however, culture practices have undergone considerable intensification and with the possibility of obtaining high productivity levels there has been a state of flux between the different farming practices. In the brackish water sector there were issues of waste generation, conversion of agricultural land, salinization, degradation of soil and the environment due to the extensive use of drugs and chemicals, destruction of mangroves and so on. Though some of these issues posed concerns, most however, were isolated instances with the bulk of farming conforming to eco-requirements.



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