Cage fish project at Abhayapuri (Pic Credit: CUTS)

In the wake of the struggle to make a sustainable living due to the COVID-19 pandemic related restrictions and hardship, cage fishing can be proved to be a boon for the 25 lakh fish farmers of Assam among them around 36 per cent are women.

Assam has around 2.86 lakh ha of water resources with Brahmaputra and Barak as main river system and with around 53 tributaries, around 430 registered and around 767 unregistered beels/Ox-bow lakes, 369304 individual ponds, 6328 community tanks and around 3882 derelict water bodies/swamps. 

Fish production in Assam was 2.54 lakh MT in 2012-13 which increased to 3.73 lakh MT in 2019-20 as per Handbook on Fisheries Statistics, Government of India. Among these, major carps (Catla, Rohu and Marigal) have 38.6 per cent share. Still there is a huge demand in other states as well as untapped potential for export of indigenous fishes in neighbouring country Bangladesh. Although the practice of cage fish farming dates back to the late 1800 in Southeast Asia but in India it is an emerging practice that involves growing fishes in existing water resources in an enclosed net cage maintaining free flow of water from the surrounding water body. 

Fish and fish seed production in Assam

YearFish Production (Lakh MT)Fish Seed Production (Million Fry)
Source: Directorate of Fisheries, Government of Assam and Handbook on Fisheries Statistics 2020, Government of India

In India, cage fish culture in inland water bodies was initiated by the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute(CMFRI) and the National Fisheries Development Board (NFDB)in the state of Andhra Pradesh in 2005.

Also Read: Assam: Five wanted robbers arrested in Sivasagar

For the first time, cage fish culture was practiced in the running waters of Yamuna and Ganga near Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh and in pond water bodies of Karnataka. In India it is still at an evolving stage especially in states like Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Goa and Gujarat.

Wetlands of Assamare amongst the most important wetlands from fisheries perspective and thus cage aquaculture can be developed quickly in most of districts of the state because of high demand for fish not only within the state but also in the neighbouring states. The Assam state has enormous water resources that are appropriate for fish varieties such as Catla, Rohu, Mrigal, Silver carp, Grass carp, Common carp, Kurhi, Mali, and Java Puthi. 

The cage fish farming in Assam can be proved to be a very cost effective fish farming method with high economic returns and resulting in very low carbon emissions. Farming of fish in an existing water body removes one of the major challenges of fish farming on land – the need for a constant flow of clean and oxygenated water. This method of fish farming is highly economically beneficial to farmers as it requires less capital investment for construction of pond or for other equipment and less working capital. It can be practiced in many types of water bodies such as fresh water bodies and existing beels with a very limited manpower.

Also Read: Assam: Body of minor girl recovered from Khanapara flyover in Guwahati

CUTS International with support from Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) through Oxfam under a regional programme entitled ‘Trans-boundary Rivers of South Asia’ (TROSA) conducted field visits in 2021 along with officials of the Directorate of Fisheries to observe and examine the situation and potential of cage fish farming in Assam. The programme is currently organised at a trial basis in the Abhayapuri village of Bongaigaon district and also at the Borghuli village of the Koliabor districts. Presently many fish varieties such as Pangash, Kawai, Rohu, Katla, Java Chitol and Putiare being farmed in these cage projects in Assam.

Cage fish farming is part of a special scheme under the Chief Minister’s Samagra Gramya Unnayan Yojana (CMSGUY) which has been implemented by the Directorate of Fisheries, Government of Assam. Under the cage fish farming programme the state government provides subsidy up to 70 percent and the rest of the amount for the cage farming project has to be implemented by the SHG or a registered non-profit society.