Fish for Food and Nutrition Security in South Asia: Part 2

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By: Dr Ram C. Bhujel, Director of Aqua-Centre, Asian Institute of Technology, Thailand & Sr. Consulting Editor, ICN International

BANGKOK: United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) aims to end hunger and ensure access to nutritious and sufficient food by all people all year round by 2030.

Fish and seafood: There are several hundred species which are caught from the wild and consumed by human as sources of food which play important roles in supplying animal protein and other nutrients especially minerals. Acceptability of new species depends on their deeply rooted culture, tradition and taste.

Social media and increased communications across the globe have helped in having better understanding of food security problem.Knowing some aquatic species available in surrounding environment, accepting them for consumption and managing their population realizing their benefits to human health and the environment could enhance food security to a great extent.

Only about 300 (0.2%) aquatic animal species have been used for consumption, culture and commercial purposes and only 157 species have been traded so far in the world (FAO, 2018). There is great potential to explore new species because a huge number of species exist in the nature.About 85,000 species of mollusks, 40,000 species of crustaceans and 30,000 species of finfishes exist on earth.

Oldest written history of aquaculture dates back to 475 BC based on a book “Treatise in Fish Culture” by Fan Li and in India around 321–300 BC) mentioned in Kautilya’s Arthashastra or Economics (Kutty, 1999; Silas, 2003). Some indications are also King Someswara’s Manasoltara (1127 AD).

Culture of aquatic animals came from the long tradition in most parts of Asia especially in Southeast Asia where people live in flood plains and surrounding areas. These people were familiar with the aquatic animals. Primitive form of aquaculture might have started in small hanging nets or cages and in pens to hold the animals live giving kitchen wastes (Pantalu, 1979).

Some other scholars think farming might have started in rice paddies. Rice cultivation started around 10,000 years back. Fish were abundant even in rice fields especially during summer when fish start migrating upstream for breeding. People might have learned to trap for consumption as well as to keep them live in rice paddies by blocking the inlets and outlets. Similar way in tidal coasts, people used “trap and hold” method which is still practiced in various parts of the world.

Modern aquaculture started from 1950s when some of the fishing grounds collapsed or collapsing. Since then aquaculture was promoted starting from common carp (Cyprinus carpio) as the “first wave”. Aquaculture started in industrialized nations such as France, Germany, Japan and others. It grew until 1990s, but it could not sustain further due mainly to high cost of inputs and labour.

Many other countries tried but developing countries of Asia and Latin America succeeded. However, until 1980s, no significant growth occurred. During that period (1950-1980), a lot of research and promotional activities were done with other species such as Indian major carps and Chinese carps. It was the “second wave”. At the same time, Mozambique tilapia (Oreochromis mozambicus) was also promoted; however, it because nuisance due to excessive breeding. Later it was replaced by Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus) during mid 1980s. Since then it is expanding all over the world as “third wave”. Due to successes in breeding, nursing and farming of some other species such as catfishes, salmon, shrimps and others, farming started booming. As a combined result, aquaculture started showing a great progress especially after 1980s and 90s during which annual growth rates were 10.8% and 9.5% respectively.

Growth continued at slower rate i.e. 5.8% during 2001–2016, which was still faster than other major food production sectors. Currently, almost 90% total aquatic food is produced in Asia where mollusks and other aquatic animals are well over 90%. China is by far the largest producer of aquatic food. Real growth occurred when commercialization started after 1990 especially with the expansion of cage culture in lakes, rivers and reservoirs, and in ponds in land. Rapid expansion occurring in India and Southeast Asia.Table 1 shows the top ten aquatic food producing countries and their contribution.

Table 1 Top aquatic food (from catch and culture) producing countries in 2017
Rank Countries                                                          Total aquatic food (million mt)                                          Per cent
1 China                                                                                               76.15                                                                    44.6 (%)
2 Indonesia                                                                                       20.88                                                                         12.2
3 India                                                                                                 9.60                                                                            5.6
4 Vietnam                                                                                            6.33                                                                            3.7
5 USA                                                                                                    5.41                                                                            3.2
6 Myanmar                                                                                          5.05                                                                           3.0                                                          7 Japan                                                                                                 4.77                                                                            2.8
8 Philippines                                                                                       4.69                                                                            2.7

9 Russia                                                                                                4.40                                                                           2.6
10 Chile                                                                                                 3.89                                                                           2.3
Others                                                                                                   29.43                                                                          17.3
Total                                                                                                      170.6                                                                         100


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