Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Shore chance
Aquaculture is concerned with the production and breeding of all varieties of marine produce, for consumption as well as industrial use, as also the processing of seafood, writes Usha Albuquerque

WHILE we normally associate aquaculture, or the cultivation of sea fauna, with areas near the coast, the enormous popularity of fish and seafoods has in recent years spurred the cultivation and propagation of the natural living produce of water suitable for consumption as well as for industrial and medicinal purposes. The mushrooming of fish food restaurants, and the popularity of fresh water fish from the many rivers in the north indicate the increasing growth of this sector.

With the realisation of the nutritional value of seafood, fisheries cultivation has seen a phenomenal increase in the last decade, and forms 70 per cent of the protein food consumed worldwide. Fish and shrimp production, in particular, has increased substantially in Latin America and some of the Asian countries, including The Philippines, Thailand, China and India.

Sea life

In India, aquaculture is still in the development stage. Through adopting a scientific approach, India, with its 7500-km-long coastline, a large inland water system and rich natural resources, can become a dominant supplier of seafood, which is highly sought after, throughout the world, and marine resources for industrial and medicinal purposes. At present, there are over 300 fish processing units in the country, and seafood export from India has been increasing every year, and touched Rs 1.2 billion in 2005.

Frozen shrimp, fresh and frozen fish, squid, cuttlefish, lobsters and dried and live products are among the important items exported from India, shrimp being the most dominant item in our export list, accounting for almost two-thirds of the total export earnings. Shrimp aquaculture is also profitable because of its universal taste, high unit value, short duration of crop, quick returns on investment, persistent demand and a fast expanding world market. The fisheries industry is rapidly developing as a full-fledged industry, providing employment to traditional fishermen as well as to highly skilled personnel engaged in the scientific breeding and management of fisheries.

Something fishy

Those involved in aquaculture handle the production and breeding of all varieties of marine produce, for consumption as well as industrial use, as also the processing of seafood. Scientific breeding, cultivation and management of fisheries and other natural living products in the seas is being handled by many organisations, most of which are located all along the country's rich coastline. Many also include processing of marine products for human consumption as well as for industrial and pharmaceutical uses.

Fishery workers catch, breed and cultivate fish and other forms of aquatic life. Their tasks include preparing nets and other equipment, operating fishing vessels, cleaning, freezing and salting the fish. They deliver the fish caught, to wholesale buyers, markets and other organisations that are involved in the export business. They are usually designated as fish cultivators, farm workers, divers and fishermen. These workers are generally self-employed or they work with the farm houses.

Deep sea fishery workers work as crew members of fishing vessels. They catch deep-sea fish for sale, or deliver them on a regular basis, to wholesale buyers and traders.

Coastal choices

A large number of fish breeding units or hatcheries have been set up by the government and private organisations for captive farming of selected fish varieties. Here farm management involves several tasks, including site selection, design and construction of ponds, pond preparation, selective stocking, water quality management, feeding, growth, monitoring and hazard analysis up to the stage of harvesting and after.

Hatchery management also involves tasks such as brood stock collection, spawning in artificial conditions, water quality management, feeding and rearing up to the post-larvae stage, oxygen packing and transportation to farms. There is a huge requirement for manpower in this sector, and companies even recruit people from abroad, including countries like Thailand and The Philippines.

Manufacture of equipment for fish cultivation, as also for processing purposes, is also gaining importance as is the production of good quality fish feed.

Research and Development is another important aspect of aquaculture. This involves the study of the life, habits and breeding of various species of fish, and conducting research for improving output and evolving better technologies for their preservation and processing.

Sailing in

While you can get into this field as an entrepreneur without specialised knowledge, a degree or training in marine sciences or fishery sciences is a big advantage. Those applying for a B.Sc in Fishery Science should have passed plus two with biology/ zoology. Those going for research in this field would require to do an M. Sc for which a B. FSc or a B. Sc Zoology is the minimum requirement.

Colleges and universities offer regular graduate and post-graduate courses in fishery or marine sciences, or as one of the subjects at the undergraduate level. B.Sc. and M Sc courses in marine or fisheries science are offered at several universities, including the University of Goa, the Central Institute of Fisheries, Bombay, GB Pant University of Agriculture, Pant Nagar, UP, as well as Andhra University and Central Institute of Fisheries, in Chennai and Kochi, Kerala. The Central Institute of Fisheries Nautical and Engineering training at Kochi also offers a bachelorís degree in fisheries and nautical sciences as well as other short-term courses.

Course clues

Research facilities also exist in various universities, including the Fisheries Research Institute, Tuticurin; University of Cochin; Mangalore, Central Institute of Fisheries Education, Bombay; C.M.F.R.I., Cochin and C.I.F.R.I., Kharagpur, and Central Institute of Fisheries Education (C.I.F.E.), Kakinada.

There are also professional training programmes at specialised fishery institutes. These include:

The Marine Products Export Development Authority (M.P.E.D.A.) in Mumbai and Mangalore that conduct short courses in shrimp farm management. The course is available for graduates or postgraduates in Zoology, Marine Biology, Chemistry or Civil Engineering.

Entrepreneurs with or without graduate qualifications are also eligible for the course, provided they are able to prove their eligibility for the course.

Candidates with an engineering background can qualify for Marine Farm Construction. They are trained in the Design and Engineering aspects of Fish Farm Construction.

The ASPARC in Visakhapatnam and OSSPARC in Bhubaneshwar are two other major training centres for aquaculture. The courses at both these centres are of one month. Courses are also offered at the M.A.C. School of Aquaculture, Tuticorin, and the Raman Academy of Aquaculture in Kakinada.

The scope of employment in this field is tremendous. There are openings for aquaculturists in private companies and export organisations to undertake supervision of the site, pond preparation, design and construction of ponds for setting up of hatcheries. Hatchery management specialists also handle post-harvest management and processing, which is considered essential for both the domestic and export markets. Career opportunities abound in India and abroad in researching for improving varieties of fish output and investigating better technologies for their preservation and processing, and in fishery inspection..

At present, there is very little availability of skilled manpower, for the designing, construction and management of semi-intensive fish farms and hatcheries. Therefore, the scope for employment in this field is immense. Several research projects have been taken up by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, C.F.T.R.I., the Department of Biotechnology and other institutions, in order to improve the variety and production of fish, which will provide ample job opportunities in this field, especially in the area of self-employment.

The M.P.E.D.A. has set up a network of offices in all the maritime states to extend expert advice and financial assistance in the form of subsidies, to entrepreneurs.

The private sector has received encouragement for participating in aquaculture. Moreover, along the entire coast, a large number of commercial integrated shrimp farming units with hatcheries and processing plants are springing up. There are also placements in industry or in pharmaceutical companies working in the field of marine resources for medicinal purposes.

So, if you would prefer to earn your living through fishing, rather than wait to feed on fishes, then aquaculture is a good place to start.

The writer is a noted career expert