Open cage-farming catches up with fishermen in Kerala
A growing number of farmers in Kerala have taken up open-cage farming as traditional fishing methods are not yielding good catch.Updated: Feb 04, 2018 23:54 IST
Two women, their sarees slightly hitched up, are wading through the idyllic backwaters in Kadamakudi village on the outskirts of the port city of Kochi to board their catamaran. They are carrying pellets and flakes of fish food.
Later in the day, they will have to feed their fish near the estuary where Kerala’s backwaters meet the Arabian Sea. They have put up four cages there in the sea to rear 3,000-odd sea bass and red snappers.
K Sreekumar, another farmer, who has returned from the sea after the morning feed, is upbeat. Two weeks ago, he had pocketed over Rs4 lakh by selling fish.
They are among the growing number of farmers in Kerala who have taken up open-cage farming as traditional fishing methods are not yielding good catch.
India has about 7,600km of coastline, but its catch are poor. The annual marine fish landings in the country are about 3.63 million tonnes as against 11.5 million tonnes in China.
Marine experts blame traditional fishing methods and emphasise the need for scientific approaches to increase the yield.
“A blue revolution is needed to increase the catch considerably,” said Dr A Gopalakrishnan, director of the Central Marine Fish Research Institute (CMFRI), a premier marine research body.
Cage farming is one of the scientific methods identified by the institute to increase the catch.
“Cage fishing is an ideal alternative for fishermen. In cage farming, production is at least 70% higher than conventional aquaculture and risk factor is also very low. Moreover, one can do partial harvesting depending on the demand,” said Sreekumar who installed 10 cages in backwaters and sea.
“Since these cages are installed near the shore, women can also do farming. And seasonal changes won’t affect this,” said Ajitha, a woman farmer. During monsoons, fishermen usually keep away from deep seas.
To popularise open-cage farming, the CMFRI is planning to train 5,000 fishermen across the country.
Last week, 50 fishermen from Ernakulam and Thrissur districts completed their training. Now at least 150 cages dot the waters along the coastline of Kochi and surrounding areas. Besides Kerala, marine cage farming is also becoming popular in neighbouring Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.
Cages are fabricated using GI pipes (of 6m length, 5m width and 6m depth) and are covered with strong nets. These cages are then floated on water using air balloons or air bags.
Once a cage is installed, fish seeds are deposited and its top is covered to avoid bird preying.
A normal farming span is seven to eight months and a normal cage costs about Rs25,000 and lasts 10 years.
However, not all fish varieties can be grown within the cage. Species like cobia, sea bass, snappers, mullet, lobster and pearl spot are suitable for this.
“For cage farming, selection of sites is very important. Nature of the sea and other environmental aspects are to be factored in. We help fishermen to locate sites. But a major challenge is developing a brood bank for artificial breeding of fish,” said Dr Imelda Joseph, the head of mariculture division of the CMFRI.
Initially most farmers were reluctant to invest in cage farming, but rich yields of those ventured into it, prompted many others to take up this method of mariculture farming, he added.
The CMFRI will soon start a brood bank to produce high value marine fish seeds suitable for cage farming, Gopalakrishnan said.