The two all-new species, Periclimenella agatti and Urocaridella arabianensis. Islanders are already earning off this new kind of aquaculture. Exclusive
The two all-new species, Periclimenella agatti and Urocaridella arabianensis. Islanders are already earning off this new kind of aquaculture.

Island special: See the four new shrimp causing quite a stir in Lakshadweep

Two new species have been discovered off the islands. They’re unusually pretty and are netting hefty sums on the ornamental fish market. Two other species, not known to live in these waters, have been found too.
By Melissa D’Costa
UPDATED ON JUN 11, 2021 08:04 PM IST

In a beauty contest for marine life, they’d make it to at least the final rounds. Four new ornamental shrimp species have been identified in the Lakshadweep coral reef environment. Two were not known of before at all, two were not known to live here.

Now, they’re changing lives as women on the islands take to a kind of aquaculture that could earn them up to 1,500 per prawn. That’s how much people and commercial establishments are willing to pay to have them in their aquariums.

The shrimp are unusually pretty. The Periclimenella agatti (named after Lakshadweep’s Agatti Island and discovered in December 2018) is a translucent pale green with scattered black dots, and about 4 cm long. The Urocaridella arabianensis (named for the Arabian Sea and discovered in August 2019) is also translucent, with red and whitish splotches scattered artistically across its 5-cm frame.

These were the species not known before. The other two are the Thor hainanensis (brownish, with rounded milky blotches; first discovered in China in 2014) and the Lysmata hochi (semi-translucent with red bands and patches; first discovered in Panama in 2008).

“The discovery of the new ornamental shrimp species was a result of exploratory surveys in the Lakshadweep coral reefs,” says Kuldeep Kumar Lal, director of the ICAR-NBFGR (Indian Council of Agricultural Research – National Bureau of Fish Genetic Resources).

The Thor hainanensis, first discovered in China in 2014, was a surprise find in Lakshadweep. It wasn’t known to live in the region. Also found in similar fashion: the Lysmata hochi (below), first discovered in Panama in 2008.
The Thor hainanensis, first discovered in China in 2014, was a surprise find in Lakshadweep. It wasn’t known to live in the region. Also found in similar fashion: the Lysmata hochi (below), first discovered in Panama in 2008.
Island special: See the four new shrimp causing quite a stir in Lakshadweep
Island special: See the four new shrimp causing quite a stir in Lakshadweep

Globally, the marine ornamental fish trade was worth over $300 million in 2019. Depending on perceived attractiveness and rarity, certain species can fetch up to 7,500 a piece. India’s share in the international marine ornamental trade is insignificant, says Ajith Kumar, principal scientist with the NBFGR. This discovery has made news in scientific circles and, in Lakshadweep, work has begun to make the most of all four finds.

In an island region where the economy depends almost entirely on tourism, tuna fishing and coconuts, the four new species could boost incomes. “Our effort is to establish captive breeding of ornamental shrimp that are indigenous to India,” Lal says.

In all, 45 women and 5 men from Agatti have been trained, in seven small batches, to rear the shrimp. “Currently, the species reared is Thor hainanensis, also known as sexy shrimp. This species has high demand in the ornamental trade,” says project member Sheena Jose, a student at NBFGR.

Seven of these trainees have established a backyard rearing unit, with help from the ICAR-NBFGR, and their first batch of 100 shrimp netted 21,000 on the domestic market last month. (Buyers and traders tend to be concentrated in Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Chennai, Kolkata and Hyderabad.)

Namshida Begum, 25, a local resident who is now helping rear the shrimp, says she is happy to be part of the first cluster of trainees. “This training is giving us an alternative source of income,” she adds. Earlier she earned a living selling pickled tuna and seashells. She made an additional 3,000 from the sale of the first batch of shrimp.

ICAR-NBFGR is planning to train about 500 more breeders across the Lakshadweep islands, with an aim of 10,000 ornamental shrimp reared and sold by end-2022. “A module on ornamental shrimp rearing will also be launched,” Lal says, “so it can be adopted by the coastal communities across our country.”

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