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Inside India’s billion-dollar seafood challenge

April 2, 2024  By Gordon Feller

Indian major carp fingerling fish seed ready for sale to pisciculture farmers Photo: Biswa1992 / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

Aquaculture is considered a “sunrise sector” in India. For more than 10 years, the Indian seafood sector has exhibited strong growth, expanding from US$8 billion in 2006 to a predicted US$80 billion by 2030. India now holds the title of the world’s third largest seafood producer; lagging behind China and Indonesia, but ahead of Peru and the U.S. 

While all regions are expected to expand their aquaculture production, the largest expansion is expected in Southeast Asia and India. Southeast Asia is expected to represent 15.9 per cent of global aquaculture production in 2030, while India would represent 9.2 per cent. 

Although India’s fisheries sector has registered tremendous growth, its performance is sub-optimal. It seems that the sector is increasingly bedeviled by serious environmental sustainability and seafood safety concerns.

Sector governance
India lags behind several key governance and regulatory frameworks, especially those dealing with illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and conservation of depleting fish stock and habitats. 


Lack of an adequate policy and regulatory framework in marine sub-sector has led to unsustainable exploitation of marine resources and limited the country’s ability to meet its international obligations. In the inland segment, there are no clear policies or guidelines for leasing and licensing out water bodies, nor is there a regulatory framework to ensure the quality of aquaculture inputs. For example, seed and fish feed, wherein import controls further serve to exacerbate the problem.

About innovation
India has made significant achievements in aquaculture research and development, including the development of improved rohu carp through selective breeding with a record of 17 per cent higher growth response per generation, availability of balanced supplementary feed for different life stages for diversified cultivable species, and appropriate disease management measures.

However, there seem to be institutional weaknesses in the development, diffusion, and use of new technologies, along the production chain have resulted in a low-productivity equilibrium. The private sector has been crowded out in the hatchery and nursery segment of seed production. 

Government support has been a driver for breed improvement and genetic resources management, but regulation and quality assurance have been inadequate. Weaknesses in the innovation system have also constrained the diversification of cultured species and in the disease management, control, and surveillance system.

National efforts
The national government is starting to focus on the amelioration of some of these challenges. During the past few years, it rolled out several new programs, plus policy initiatives. 

In 2017, with their eyes on fisheries, the Indian government rolled out the Blue Revolution program to ensure more focused development and management of the sector. The aim was to promote the prosperity of the fisheries-dependent population, as well as contribute towards India’s food and nutritional security. 

Blue Revolution is now operating under a new name, the Prime Minister’s Fisheries Resources Program (PMMSY). PMMSY has expanded targets while retaining the aims of the Blue Revolution. It’s put additional emphasis on the following:

  • Transforming the management framework and the regulatory framework, especially related to these key priorities: quality and hygiene of fish and fish products’ fish disease risk management; adoption of resources-efficient and good farm management practices; genetic resources management.
  • Creating an appropriate ‘Extension Service’ focused on aquaculture and fisheries.
  • Leveraging private sector and commercial bank finance to complement the governments’ budgetary resources.
  • Augmenting institutional capacities and systems for increased resilience, efficiency, productivity and seafood safety in the fisheries and aquaculture sector in selected Indian states.

Future ambitions
India’s government set out an ambitious goal for their new national aquaculture project to “improve the productivity and diversity of fish production.” 

The focus of the project’s first phases has been on improving incentives and the enabling environment for larger private sector investment in freshwater aquaculture and mariculture. 

India’s fisheries sector now lies at a crossroads. One direction points toward giant leaps in productivity, intensification, industry concentration and improved environmental stewardship and sustainability for aquaculture; effective management and redirecting subsidies in capture fisheries for restoring fish stocks health and productivity; increased diversification, improved seafood safety and quality and increased trade in fish products. 

The other possible direction points toward stagnation – or even a downward spiral in productivity, increased environmental degradation, reduced biodiversity, depleting wild stock, increased biosecurity, and public health risks, and impoverished and marginalized small producers. 

India may find its way and chart a path towards a balanced road map for fisheries by building synergies between the sector’s diverse agendas: the efficiently productive, the market-driven, the environmental, the nutrition-sensitive, and the pro-poor. 

Vast sums are being allocated to the new project to provide much-needed technical and financial support in nine distinct areas:

  • Establishing facilities for epidemio-surveillance of aquatic animals, biosecurity and disease risk management system. 
  • Augmenting public investments such as brood banks, referral laboratories, etc., to ensure acceptable quality of inputs for aquaculture.  
  • Divestiture of public sector hatcheries and feed mills – while strengthening relevant public sector regulatory capacity and role in creating an enabling environment for the private sector in tandem.
  • Facilitating access to finance including as may be appropriate, a credit insurance scheme.
  • Exploring new export markets and deepening existing ones. 
  • Upgrading domestic production, processing and postharvest technologies and practices to international standards.
  • Establishing aquaculture extension services at state/district levels either as a private sector investment or as small enterprises, maximizing use of digital service delivery.
  • Launching annual technology competitions with National Forum and Expo to attract and complement the “Start-up India” program.
  • Promoting innovations in safety, resource efficiency circular economy (such as: putting fish wastes and byproducts to productive purposes; cleaner production systems (audits, certification, etc.); use of blockchain for traceability and sustainable produce value chain tracking; increased automation in mariculture). 

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