Technology is key for a robust fisheries sector

Technology can play a catalytic role in the emergent transformation of the fisheries production and trade. Although, standalone initiations in this regard may not be fruitful, a holistic approach that keeps modernising production and sales as a core focus area remains pertinent.

  • India is the second largest producer of fish in the world and the sector accounts for a little over one percent of the Gross Domestic Product of the country.
  • However, the persistence of conventional and low tech-intensive fishing and harvesting practices across the country is a major concern for the growth of the sector.
  • The country’s sea food industry is undergoing a drastic structural change in terms of product differentiation and standardised processing, to fulfil the quality demands of global market.
  • The discourse around establishing an institutional framework for the delivery of digital and techno-intensive services to fishermen and fish farmers has gained increased attention by stakeholders on various levels.

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Fisheries sector plays a significant role in the domestic and the global market. India is the second largest producer of fish in the world and accounts for a little over one percent of the Gross Domestic Product of the country. In terms of employment generation, the sector supports the lives of over 28 million people in India, particularly, the small and marginalised fish farmers.

The financial year 2020-2021 witnessed export earnings from fish and fish products of about US$ 6 billion, with top destinations being China, US, Southeast Asia, European Union, and Japan. The Indian fisheries sector, evidently, has demonstrated a stellar annual growth rate (10.87%) ever since FY 2014-2015. Out of this, a majority of the production is contributed by inland fisheries of the country.

Presently, a majority of India’s fish exports are concentrated in shrimp; however, the value-added product share in this domain remains at a low 7%. This underlines a high potential in enhancing value added exports, resulting in higher prices for fishermen and fish farmers. In this regard, it is imperative for the country to initiate focused efforts to enhance seed quality and accessibility, in addition to modernised farming and quality standards.

Recognising the sector’s scope in the growth of the economy and its contribution to the world seafood demands, the Government of India committed to attain fish production level of 22 million metric tons by the end of 2025. The government envisages an extensive positive impact on the country’s fishers and fish farmers involved in the relevant value chains.

There have been listed efforts in this regard. The National Fisheries Policy 2020 was initiated to bring three existing policies for sector, viz, National Policy on Marine Fisheries, 2017 (NPMF), Draft National Inland Fisheries and Aquaculture Policy (NIFAP) and Draft National Mariculture Policy (NMP). The vision of the umbrella policy remains to develop an ecologically healthy, economically viable and socially inclusive fisheries sector.

Additionally, the flagship scheme “Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana” (PMMSY) aims at bringing about a blue revolution via the development of sustainable and robust fisheries value chains in the country. This scheme has received the highest ever investment ever, with an enhancement of 88% to Rs 1,879 crore in the budget session for FY 2022-2023.

This enhancement is expected to be utilised for infrastructural developments that assure efficient marketing of seaweed to accelerate its cultivation and to open up alternate livelihood opportunities, including aqua sports and fish tourism.

Through these focused efforts, among others, the underlying role of technological methods in the growth of the domestic production and export of fish and related commodities is coming to the forefront. The country’s sea food industry is undergoing a drastic structural change in terms of product differentiation and standardised processing, to fulfil the quality demands of global market.

However, the persistence of conventional and low tech-intensive fishing and harvesting practices across the country is a major concern for the growth of the sector. In addition to this, poor physical condition of resources, suboptimal input culture system, lack of diversity in catches and practices, poor productivity, inadequate regulatory mechanism, increased incidents of disease, inadequate infrastructure for pre-production, production, post-harvest and processing facilities, low adoption of technologies and shortage of skilled manpower in aquaculture and extension services remain major concerns.

Under this context, interventions to modernise production in the country can be instrumental in optimally utilising the sector’s potential. At the production and harvesting level, efforts to incorporate technology in the conversion of wastelands into wetlands would contribute extensively in accelerating production to achieve the national target. Additionally, such interventions can be leveraged to explore the scope of new opportunities and alternative methods of production in this arena.

Moreover, from a logistical point of view, these efforts can play an imperative role in standardising procedures, ensuring quality certifications, vessel efficiency and maintain hygiene of the produce. These efforts will extensively promote the welfare of fish farmers in the country through increased quality production. Furthermore, benefits of technological implementation can be leveraged in establishing marketing networks for small and medium fish farmers in the country and through assured safeguarding measures including information sharing around market scenarios, procurement of insurance benefits and relief measures.

Certain efforts have been initiated in this regard. The Department of Fisheries and Animal Husbandry’s decision to explore the scope of modern fish markets and fish farms in the country is a welcome step in this direction. The pilot projects under these initiatives aim to lay significance on ensuring high value catch, especially for marine fishers and further promote fish farmers’ welfare in the markets. Moreover, the discourse around establishing an institutional framework for the delivery of digital and techno-intensive services to fishermen and fish farmers has gained increased attention by stakeholders on various levels.

Therefore, technology can play a catalytic role in the emergent transformation of the fisheries production and trade. Although, standalone initiations in this regard may not be fruitful, a holistic approach that keeps modernising production and sale at the core remains pertinent. Through a sustainable lens, this outlook offers extensive opportunities to further encourage good practices in production, management and sale, simultaneously, keeping welfare of the fishers at the forefront.

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