Visakhapatnam: The Vice-President of India, M. Venkaiah Naidu, opined that COVID-19 might prove to be a game-changer for India's fisheries sector as the pandemic has made people aware of healthy dietary habits.
Addressing scientists and staff of the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI) and Central Institute of Fisheries Technology (CIFT) in Visakhapatnam on 7 December, the Vice-President said that fish is a great source of protein and holds the key to reducing malnutrition in the country, especially among children.
In this regard, he asked health experts and nutritionists to create awareness among people about the many benefits of including fish in their diet. "Fish is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are necessary for our body and good for cardiovascular health. This aspect needs to be popularised and conveyed to the common man," he said.
Noting that India ranks second in the world in fish production, Mr. Naidu said there is still a lot of potential to be harnessed in both inland and marine fisheries. He further said that with a modest start from a small-scale industry, the fisheries sector has grown to become a very important socio-economic force in the country over the past few decades and currently provides employment to nearly 15 million people. India is the fourth-largest exporter of fish in the world and the sector has been one of the major contributors of foreign exchange earnings, he said, adding that India should aspire to become number one in fish export.
Observing that with the growing population and the increasing demand for animal protein the domestic requirement of fish is estimated to increase significantly, Mr. Naidu called for bridging the gap in demand and supply of the annual fish production in India.
He opined that capture fisheries and deep-sea fishing alone cannot meet the demand and said that thriving marine fish culture is the way forward. Stating that over 8,000 km of coastline offers immense potential for the development of mariculture, the Vice-President said that cage farming is widely recognised as the most important technology for increasing fish production. He lauded CMFRI and CIFT's work in this regard and said that much more needs to be done.
Recognising that for many years the lack of availability of quality fish seed has been a major concern, Mr. Naidu said that efforts by the research institutes mitigated this problem to an appreciable extent but added that there is still huge scope for innovation in this area. Similarly, he called for the need to improve value-addition to our fish by maintaining the highest quality, consistency, and reliability by better grading, quality assurance, and packaging. The Vice-President said he wants Indian mariculture to be diversified by investing in innovative products such as nutraceuticals and ornamental fish. Finally, we need to focus on reducing post-harvest losses by creating the required infrastructure like cold storage, he said.
The Vice-President also asked municipal bodies to take a special interest in creating clean and attractive fish markets. Expressing concerns over the increasing frequency of extreme weather events caused by climate change, Mr. Naidu said unfortunately its effect is mostly felt in the seas and oceans through sea-level rise, ocean warming, and ocean acidification. "All this is having an adverse impact on marine life and human lives that depend on it," he said.
Expressing concerns over marine and freshwater pollution, the Vice-President said that discarded plastics, other residual waste, and industrial chemicals eventually find their way into our water bodies with devastating consequences for aquatic life and habitats. He also expressed concern over over-fishing with mechanised trawling and said that marine fisheries are over-exploited and a push is being made for deep-sea fishing. The small-scale fishers are the most affected, he added.
It is estimated that the primary production of the global ocean is expected to decline further by six per cent by 2100 and by 11 per cent in tropical zones.
Emphasising the urgent need to tackle the issues of fisheries in India, the Vice-President suggested a three-front strategy - sustainable management of resources and mitigation of the damage caused by climate change; improvement in value addition and post-production facilities for better price realisation; and leveraging technology to innovate in aquaculture and improve production capacities.
Mr. Naidu appreciated the government for taking initiatives to improve the fisheries sector like the Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana and the upcoming National Fisheries Policy for an ecologically healthy, economically viable, and socially inclusive fisheries sector.
Mr. Naidu further emphasised the need to enhance access to credit, develop cold chains and good upcountry market linkages, and provide better infrastructure for post-harvest storage, handling, and value addition. "Ultimately, government efforts should be complemented by greater R&D support from the research institutes, increased private investment in fish and shrimp hatcheries, and establishment of aquaculture estates, feed mills, and ancillary industries," he added.
"Please remember that the research conducted by you should translate into improving the lives of fishermen and benefit them," he told the scientists of CMFRI and CIFT. Appreciating the farmers for the record food grain output during the pandemic, Mr. Naidu said, "I salute the farmers, including the fish farmers."
The Vice-President asked the research institutes to encourage small fishermen to adopt modern sustainable practices through innovative marine fish cultures and better extension programmes. With growing awareness about the health benefits of fish and with the right inputs and technologies, he said fish farming can become more lucrative in the coming years and lift millions who depend on it out of poverty. That is the real objective of the 'Blue Revolution' initiative, he said.
The Vice-President also visited the museums of CMFRI and CIFT in Visakhapatnam and complimented both institutions for their excellent work. This was Mr. Naidu's first in-person visit to any scientific institution since the onset of COVID-19. On this occasion, he also dedicated snapper seeds to the nation.