The fisheries sector is on the cusp of a big transition. More focus have been given on increasing production and investment. The announcement of Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana(PMMSY) is aimed at promising public investment and creating an ecosystem for private investment in the whole fisheries value chain starting from production to consumption. However, there is no national fisheries policy which will guide and give a clear direction to the growth momentum.
The government is grappling with a ‘to be’ and ‘not to be’ syndrome. The consultation process is continuing. The draft National Fisheries Policy 2020 is making no headway. There is no clarity when the consultation process will be finished. There is a National Marine Fisheries Policy 2017. A draft National Inland Fisheries & Aquaculture Policy 2019 and a draft National Mariculture Policy were released in 2019. Now the government is trying to integrate all policies into one.
There is a sense of ambiguity.The draft National Fisheries Policy 2020 is a voluminous document. It has tried to micromanage everything.It looks like a long wish list how each sub-sector should perform. It is unclear when the draft policy will be finalized.
With 1.24 per cent contribution to the national GVA and 7.28% to agriculture GVA, the fisheries sector is poised to grow faster in coming days.
The contraction of Indian economy due to the global pandemic has necessitated increasing investment in the rural sector. The announcement of Rs20,050 crore investment under the PMMSY is expected to spur the growth of the blue economy, create more livelihood and income generation opportunities. It will also boost country’s foreign exchange earnings.
India has a vast pool of unutilized and underutilized natural resources.It has rich and diverse fisheries resources ranging from deep seas to lakes, ponds, rivers and more than 10% of the global biodiversity in terms of fish and shellfish species.
The marine fisheries resources are spread along the country’s vast coastline and 2.02 million square km Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and 0.53 million sq.km continental shelf area. The inland resources are in the form of rivers and canals (1.95 lakh km), floodplain lakes (8.12 lakh hectares), ponds and tanks (24.1 lakh hectares), reservoirs (31.5 lakh hectares), brackish water (12.4 lakh hectares), saline/alkaline affected areas (1297789 lakh hectares) etc.
The fish production in the country has also shown continuous and sustained increments since independence. In the recent years, the fish production in India has registered an average annual growth rate of more than 7%. Thetotalfishproduction inthecountryrosefrom0.752millionmetrictonsin1950-51to13.42million metrictonsduringFY2018-19.
The vast and varied inland resources offer great opportunities for livelihood development and ushering economic prosperity.
The aquaculture sector is gaining momentum with decline in capture fisheries. The aquaculture production has increased to 6.2 million metric tons in FY 2017-18 from 1.9 million metric tons in 2000-01.
Share of capture and culture fisheries in export
In this background, the draft National Fisheries Policy 2020 bears significance because a government policy influences and determines decisions and actions of the government.
PMMSY- influencing fisheries policy
The PMMSY promises the highest ever investment in fisheries sector in India. It includes 100 several standalone as well as interrelated activities, mainly increasing the production, productivity andinvestment in both capture and culture fisheries. The scheme targets to achieve 22 million tonnes of production and increase the export value to Rs1 lakh crore by 2024-25.
Average annual growth of fish production is set to be 9% from the current 7.5% and average aquaculture productivity from current 3.3 tons per hectare to 5.0 tons per hectare by 2024-25. Apart from this, the PMMSY aims to reduce the post-harvest losses from 25% to 10% and create employment opportunities for 55 lakh people..
The PMMSY is going to disrupt the fisheries sector. The disruptions will be felt in certain areas- exploitation of natural water resources, leasing out the water bodies to private parties, intensive aquaculture and massive adoption of new technologies for commercial production.
It will have huge impact on the traditional fishing practices, local community and environment. All are interrelated. Thus, while framing a national fisheries policy, all aspects should be kept in mind. Private investment can be safeguarded. Traditional fishers will be protected. Trainings and handholding should be given to farmers and entrepreneurs for responsible farming practices.Otherwise, the growth of the fisheries sector will not be sustainable.
“The National Fisheries Policy 2020 would offer a strategized way forward to develop, harness, manage and regulate capture and culture fisheries in a responsible and sustainable manner. The Policy will ensure a productive integration with other economic sectors, such as agriculture, coastal area development and eco-tourism, to meet the goals of the ‘Blue Economy’. While center-state and inter- state cooperation, socio-economic up-liftment and economic prosperity of fishers and fish farmers’ especially traditional and small-scale fisheries are at the core of the Policy,” reads the Draft National Fisheries Policy 2020.
There is a paradigm shift in approach. The whole programmes and schemes are directed at augmenting production, productivity, processing and investment.
Let’s analyze the whole fisheries value chain from capture and culture perspective. Since capture fisheries resources are depleting, the government intends to promote deep-sea fishing. It requires huge investment. The government offers financial incentives to‘traditional and small-scale fishers and fisher groups to undertake resource specific Deep-sea fishing’ and invest in ‘modern fishing vessels capable of undertaking extended voyages’ and ‘infusion of modern technology and capacity building’.
However, the National Fishworkers Forum (NFF), a federation of trade unions of independent and small-scale fish workers , in a press release, stated that the policy is neither in favour of the fishing communities nor for protecting the oceans and the coast.
It requires a thorough discussion as the fishers’ community along the coasts largely depend on fishing for their livelihood and employment. Whether it requires a separate policy for marine sector is a point of further deliberation.
The aquaculture sector promises good return on investment for the entrepreneurs. The share of the farmed fish production in India is also increasing at a rapid pace. It attract the youths.
A host of opportunities in saline and brackish water, reservoir cage cultivation, sea cage farming, seaweed farming, ornamental fisheries, bivalve farming and technology based intensive aquaculture are available now.
Problems are aplenty in aquaculture sector also. Main is the availability of quality seed throughout the year. It requires brood banks and seed banks, broodstock multiplication centers, and nucleus breeding centers to fill the gap. Even the shrimp sector which contributes to export earning significantly is fully dependent on import of broodstock.
Another major component is feed. The input cost of feed in the total aquaculture production system in very high, nearly 60-70 % of the total cost.
The policies should be directed at ensuring production of quality and affordable feed. According to a report, 50 % of the capacity of existing feed companies remain unutilized in India. Then, further giving incentive for setting up feed manufacturing units will encourage production of unregulated poor quality feed in the country. Thus, it needs to be reviewed.
Rightly the draft policy emphasizes on aquatic diseases. “The rapid growth of culture fisheries has enhanced the sector’s vulnerability to aquatic diseases which are transboundary in nature,” reads the Draft Policy.It has also been felt during the pandemic period.
DrDillip Kumar, Chairman, the National Inland Fisheries and Aquaculture Policy and Member of the Committee on National Fisheries Policy 2020 said, “The draft fisheries policy is an integrated one covering inland fisheries and aquaculture, mariculture, value addition and processing. Hardly there is anything left out. But it requires refinement. The policy should cater to the needs of the fishers, fish farmers and the industry.”
The whole process of making a good policy for the Fisheries Sector depends on the availability of quality data. The authenticity of all data related to the total production of fish in the country, average annual growth, total fishermen, and post-harvest losses available in public domain needs to be verified. There is no mechanism to collect data about the fisheries sector.
However, we have some authentic numbers related to seafood production and export. What is about the fresh water fish production? Several fishermen catch fish for their livelihood. Several small farmers practice aquaculture in their backyard or in a small patch of their agriculture land for their family consumption. We do not have any data about all these people and production.
Again we talk about reducing post-harvest losses from 25% to 10%. Do we have any mechanism to ascertain the post-harvest losses? These are assumptions. These factor may be delaying the process of finalizing draft policy.
Thus, it is very important to develop a methodology for data collection and analysis. The State fisheries departments, KVKs, research institutes, universities, cooperatives and industry stakeholders need to be engaged to collect and verify the data.
Learning from past
Many government policies are gathering dust due to lack of proper implementation. All policies depend on the kind of socio-political and economic environment prevalent during that particular period. Policies are made to support the socio-politico and economic agenda of the government.
Most of the policies fail to deliver the desired result due to lack of fund or lack of proper implementation.
In the light of the PMMSY, the success of the scheme is fully dependent on the timely release of the Central, State and stakeholder’s shares. The Covid 19 pandemic has crippled the economy of India. Most of the States don’t have good financial condition.
According to several media reports, some States are in serious debt trap. Thus, some States fail to give their proportional share. Unlike earlier regime, the Centre releases funds to State treasury. Earlier it used to be released to the concerned departments. It is observed the funds remain unutilized in the State treasury.
Another major challenge is the lack of willingness or efficiency of government officers. The department officers lack technical knowledge to guide the entrepreneurs. It is very important that the fisheries department personnel need to undergo mid-career trainings for capacity building and upgrading their knowledge base.
Again fisheries is a low priority area for the government. It does not pay good political dividend. Several times, the speed of making a policy depends on the will of the political leadership.
It is a real challenge to put the entire fisheries sector and sub-sectors under one policy frame work. However, it should be concise and comprehendible. The new National Fisheries Policy 2020 should be able to guide the decisions and actions of the government as well as other stakeholders. It should help derive a positive outcome and maintain a sustainable growth.
(The author is the Chief Editor of SMART AGRIPOST. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)