India’s mariculture sector is on a course of transformation with the country accelerating attempts to enhance its marine fish production by diversifying mariculture. In its latest efforts aiming to boost the production, the country has successfully developed seed production technology of John’s snapper (Lutjanusjohnii), a high value marine fish, to utilize itas a candidate species for mariculture.

Game-changer in mariculture

The technology was developed by ICAR-Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI), India’s premier research body in marine fisheries. According to Indian scientists, this is a game-changer as it will open up enormous scope for the country’s mariculture ventures in near future through species diversification. Snappers are in high demand and much sought after variety in India with a farm-gate price of Rs 400/kg ($5.42) for this fish.  “It is an excellent species for mariculture owing to its fast growth rate, efficient feed conversions, fantastic meat quality and superior consumer preference. John’s snapper seeds globally have only been produced in Singapore with limited success. This is the first instance in the country that snapper seeds have been produced”, said Dr. Shubhadeep Ghosh, Senior Scientist of ICAR-CMFRI at its Visakhapatnam Regional Centre. In India, the fish is reported from both the west and the east coasts. It inhabits mostly the coral reefs and rocks, deep seas, and occasionally in estuaries, he stated.

In an apparent significance of the new development, India’s Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu himself came into the scene to release the technology recently (07.12.2020) at the Visakhapatnam Regional Centre of CMFRI. He handed over the country’s first-ever bred snapper seeds to two progressive fish farmers in a symbolic gesture of dedicating the same to the nation. According to the Vice President, the success in snapper seed production and subsequent farming of the species in marine cages would fulfil the domestic demand of marine fish as the cheap and the best source of animal protein. The existing gap in the country between the seafood demand and supply could be addressed in a way diversifying the species for mariculture, he said. “With expansion of marine cage farming, huge increment in employment generation is expected. At least three people are employed directly or indirectly while producing every tonne of fish through mariculture”, he added.

Targeting 4 to 5 million metric tonnes in next 10 years from mariculture

A report of Blue Economy published by the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister of India shows that India targets 4 to 5 million metric tonnes of fish production in the next 10 years from mariculture.  The development of the technology of the snapper as part of species diversification is primarily aimed at achieving this target by enhancing the marine cage farming system across the coastal states of the country. According to this report, India requires 18 million metric tonnes of total fish production by 2030 to meet the growing food demand in the country.

This is the sixth marine food fish of which breeding technology has been developed by the ICAR-CMFRI. Earlier, CMFRI had succeeded in brood stock development and round the year seed production of finfishes like cobia, silver pompano, Indian pompano, orange-spotted grouper and pink ear emperor.

The research work for developing the seed production technology of the snapper started during 2018-19 under a project which was financed by the Department of Biotechnology, Govt. of India.

“With production of snapper seeds on a consistent basis, Indian mariculture is poised for a new surge with exponential increase in mariculture finfish production”, said DrAGopalakrishnan, Director of CMFRI.

Limited scope in marine fishery

India’s marine capture fishery is facing a number of issues such as resource depletion, ecosystem degradation and marine pollution which are attributed by marine scientists to climate crisis. The marine fish landings in the country have been fluctuating between 3 and 4 million tonnes for during the last decade. The latest marine fish landings data published by CMFRI recorded 3.56 million tonnes in 2019 with the commercially unimportant red-tooth trigger fish being the most landed species (2.74 lakh t). With limited scope for increasing the production from capture, the scientists of CMFRI are of the view that the equal emphasis should be given to enhance mariculture.

“For the past few years, CMFRI is focusing on producing quality seeds of commercially important species suitable for cage farming, which was started in the country in 2005”, Dr. Gopalakrishnan stated. Realizing that non-availability of quality seeds remain a major constraint to achieve the potential of mariculture, the country started developing technologies for seed production of cobia, silver pompano, grouper, Indian pompano and pink ear emperor at the various research hatcheries of CMFRI located in different parts of the country, he said.

Brood Bank for Cobia and Silver Pompano

“Two national brood bank facilities, each for cobia and silver pompano, are being operational at Vizhinjam in Kerala and Mandapam in Tamil Nadu. Over the past half a decade, consistent seed production was achieved and the seeds are supplied to fish farmers and to the industry as a whole. The efforts are on to diversifying the species which is the need of the hour to augment marine fish production”, Dr. Gopalakrishnan said.

“The increasing contribution of marine fisheries to the GDP growth are supported by the robust research efforts of the institute and its impact on fisher folk, fish farmers, fisheries policy planners and managers”, he said.