All about Fish Farming in India

Indian fisheries and aquaculture is an important sector of food production, providing nutritional security to the food basket, contributing to the agricultural exports and engaging about 14 million people in different activities. With diverse resources ranging from deep seas to lakes in the mountains and more than 10% of the global biodiversity in terms of fish and shellfish species since independence, the country has shown continuous and sustained increments in fish production. Constituting about 6.3% of the global fish production, the sector contributes to 1.1% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 5.15% of the agricultural GDP. The total fish production of 10.1 million metric tonnes presently has nearly 65% contribution from the inland sector and nearly the same from culture fisheries.  The annual carp seed production is to the tune of 25 billion and that of shrimp about 12 billion, with increasing diversification in the recent past. Along with food fish culture, ornamental fish culture and high value fish farming are gaining importance in the recent past. 

Export potential

Fish and fish products have presently emerged as the largest group in agricultural exports of India, with 10.5 lakh tonnes in terms of quantity and ` 33,442 crores in value.  
This accounts for around 10% of the total exports of the country and nearly 20% of the agricultural exports. More than 50 different types of fish and shellfish products are exported to 75 countries around the world. 

 Global position 

3rd in Fisheries, 2nd in Aquaculture 

 Contribution of Fisheries to GDP (%) 


 Contribution to Agricultural GDP (%) 


 Per capita fish availability (Kg) 


 Annual Export earnings (Rs. In Crore) 


 Employment in sector (million) 



Farming systems based on aquaculture 

Aquaculture resources in India include 2.36 million ha of ponds and tanks, 0.798 million ha of flood plain lakes plus in addition 195 210 km of rivers and canals, 2.907 million ha of reservoirs and that could be utilized for aquaculture purposes. Ponds and tanks are the prime resources for freshwater aquaculture; however, only about 40 percent of the available area is used for aquaculture currently. Ponds in eastern India are typically homestead ponds of less than 1 ha in size, while the watersheds in western India are larger covering expanses of between 15–25 ha each. In northern India, open waters with in-flows are common, while southern India has watersheds, termed as tanks, largely used for crop irrigation. In several parts of the country ponds and tanks are state-owned or communal and are leased out for periods of 3–5 years.

Integrated farming system for one ha 

  • Cropping (0.90 ha) + fishery (0.10 ha) + poultry (50 layers) + 5 kg oyster mushroom production/day. 
  • Rice-Gingelly-Maize and Rice-Soybean-Sunflower in 0.90 ha + polyculture fish rearing (0.10 ha), Pigeon (100 pairs) and 5kg mushroom production per day 
  • Goat (20 female + one male) + fish (400 numbers of polyculture) + improved cropping system for wetlands 

Integration of cropping in 0.90 ha with fishery in 0.10 ha, 50 layers of poultry and 5 kg oyster mushroom production per day will result in higher net return of Rs.35,000/ha/year (or) Integration of Rice-Gingelly-Maize and Rice-Soybean-Sunflower in 0.90 ha with 0.10 ha polyculture fish rearing, 100 pairs of pigeon and 5 kg mushroom production per day could result in higher return of Rs. 88, 700 in one ha farming with additional employment of 300 man days/year. The highest net return of Rs. 1,31,118 could be possible by integration of goat (20 female + one male), fish (400 numbers of polyculture), along with improved cropping system for wetlands.

It has been estimated that about 1.2 million ha of potential brackish water area available in India is suitable for farming. In addition to this, about 9.0 million ha of salt affected areas are also available. However, in shrimp culture, only 15% of the potential area has been put into culture purpose. The farming of shrimp is largely dependent on small holdings of less than 2 ha, these farms account for over 90% of the total area utilized for shrimp culture. Many of the farm holdings located in Kerala and West Bengal belong to the traditional systems of shrimp farming.  

Freshwater aquaculture activity being an important activity expanded its dimension in terms of area coverage and intensity of operation, with Andhra Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Maharashtra etc, taking up fish culture as a commercial farming enterprise. Of late, scientific carp farming is picking up in the north-eastern states of India. Brackish water aquaculture is mainly concentrated on the coasts of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Orissa and West Bengal. With regards to the market, while the main areas of consumption for freshwater fish are in West Bengal, Bihar, Orissa and northeastern India. Cultured brackish water shrimps are destined mainly for export. 

Non-conventional culture systems 

Sewage-fed fish culture and rice paddy-cum-fish culture are two important culture systems practiced in certain areas of the country; sewage-fed fish culture in bheries in West Bengal is an age-old practice. About 5,700 ha are currently being utilized for fish culture using the input of primary-treated sewage and produce over 7,000 tonnes of fish per annum, mainly consisting of the major and minor carps. The culture system usually involves multiple stocking and multiple harvesting approaches, with harvest size usually in the range of 300–500 g. Though stocking densities of 7,000–10,000 of advanced fingerlings per ha is prescribed. Normally, multiple stocking and multiple harvesting is adopted and fishes are reared for 3-5 months, depending on the growth of the fishes to reach marketable size of 250-400 g.  

Paddy-cum-fish culture is undertaken in medium to semi-deep water rice paddy fields in lowland areas with fairly strong dykes to prevent the escape of cultivated fish during floods, trenches and pond refuges in the paddy fields provide shelter for the fish. The modern concept of paddy-fish integration with rice-fish plot, digging of peripheral trenches, construction of dykes, nutrient utilization of pond refuge and sowing of improved varieties of rice and release of fish in trenches, resulted improved the yield of rice and fish. Fish ponds receive the crop residues as pond input.

Cultured fish species 

While carp form the most important species farmed in freshwater in India, it is the shrimp from the brackish water sector which contributes the bulk of the production. The three Indian major carps, namely, catla (Catla catla), rohu labeo (Labeo rohita) and mrigal carp (Cirrhinus mrigala) contribute over 90% of the total Indian aquaculture production. Introduced during the 1970’s into the carp polyculture system in the country, three exotic carps, namely, silver carp (Hypophthalmichthys molitrix), grass carp (Ctenopharyngodon idellus) and common carp (Cyprinus carpio) now form a second important group.

Among the catfishes, Philippine catfish, 'magur' (Clarias batrachus) is the only species that has received a lot of attention. Stinging catfish, 'Singhi' (Heteropneustes fossilis) is another air-breathing catfish species being cultured to a certain extent in swamps and derelict water bodies, especially in the eastern states. In recent years, attempts have been made to develop the culture of fishes like Pangasius pangasiusPangasius sutchiOreochromis niloticusOmpok pabda etc.

The other finfish species of importance include climbing perch (Anabas testudineus), murrels (Channa striata and C. marulius), etc. Among the freshwater prawns, the giant river prawn (Macrobrachium rosenbergii), is the most important species followed by the monsoon river prawn, M.malcolmsonii.

The brackish water aquaculture sector is mainly supported by shrimp production, as well as, the giant tiger prawn (Penaeus monodon), which is responsible for the bulk of production followed by the recently introduced whiteleg shrimp, Penaeus vannamei. In fact, the culture of this shrimp picked up on par with tiger shrimp in very short span of time. Although India possesses several other potential species of finfish and shellfish, the production of these, is still very low key. In seawater, the major farmed species are the green mussel (Perna viridis), Indian brown mussel (Perna indica), Indian backwater oyster (Crassostrea madrasensis), Japanese pearl oyster (Pinctada fucata) and seaweed species like Gracilaria edulis

Future prospects 

The Ministry of Agriculture of the Government of India has a Department of Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Fisheries with a Division of Fisheries as the nodal agency. This agency is responsible for planning, monitoring and the funding of several centrally sponsored developmental schemes related to fisheries and aquaculture in all of the Indian States. Most of the states possess a separate Ministry for Fisheries or else it remains within the Ministry of Animal Husbandry. All states have well-organized fisheries departments, with fisheries executive officers at district level and fisheries extension officers at block level, who are involved in the overall development of the sector. However, the administrative structure at state levels varies from state to state. Centrally sponsored schemes like the 422 FFDAs cover almost all districts in the Country and the 39 BFDAs in the maritime districts have also contributed to aquaculture development. 

The Indian Council of Agricultural Research located within the Department of Agricultural Research and Education, which in turn is within the Indian Ministry of Agriculture, has a Division of Fisheries, which undertakes the R&D on aquaculture and fisheries through a number of research institutes. There are about 695 Krishi Vigyan Kendras (Farm Science Centres) in the Country, operated through State Agricultural Universities, ICAR Research Institutes and NGOs, most of which also undertake aquaculture development within their scope of activities.

Aquaculture over recent years has not only led to substantial socio-economic benefits such as increased nutritional levels, income, employment and foreign exchange, but has also brought vast un-utilized and under-utilized land and water resources under culture. With freshwater aquaculture being compatible with other farming systems, it is largely environmentally friendly and provides for recycling and utilization of several types of organic wastes. Over the years, however, culture practices have undergone considerable intensification and with the possibility of obtaining high productivity levels there has been a state of flux between the different farming practices. In the brackish water sector there were issues of waste generation, conversion of agricultural land, salinization, degradation of soil and the environment due to the extensive use of drugs and chemicals, destruction of mangroves and so on. Though some of these issues posed concerns, most however, were isolated instances with the bulk of farming conforming to eco-requirements.

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