Revival of Indigenous Fishes of Manipur

16 Jun 2023

Fish is one of the essential parts of the daily diet in Manipur. Since time immemorial, the majority of people in Manipur developed a fondness of fish as a favourite delicacy.

Fish farming is one of the main occupations as the state is blessed with a good aquatic ecosystem. Lakhs of fish farmers depend upon fishery for their livelihood.

Manipur has a total water area of 56,461 hectares but at present, only 18,000 hectares are being utilized for fish farming. There are also a large number of reservoirs, hill streams and riverine where fish farming can be taken up.

The annual fish production in the State is estimated at 36,000 metric tonnes against the annual consumption requirement of 56,000 metric tonnes.

Earlier, around Rs. 400 crore was utilized for importing fish into the State annually; however, in the past 4-5 years, the State managed to bring the cost down to around Rs 300 crore.

Loktak Lake, the largest freshwater lake in the entire North East Region has an area of 287 sq. km. constitutes about 50% of the total fish production of the state.

Why Manipur is losing its indigenous fish species?

More than 200 species of indigenous fish are found in Manipur out of which Loktak Lake harbors 38 of them. As many as 16 species of indigenous fish are believed to have become extinct.

In 2011, the International Union for Conservation of Nature listed 15 fish species from the eastern Himalayas, including seven from Manipur as “endangered freshwater fish species”.

Scientists believe that changes in the hydrology due to the construction of dams, blockage of migratory routes, drying up of wetlands from siltation, eutrophication and water quality deterioration, and over-exploitation are the primary reasons for declining indigenous fish diversity.

In Manipur, the commissioning of the Loktak Hydro Electric Project and installation of Ithai Barrage in 1983 to elevate the water level of the Loktak Lake has caused the destruction of the wetland ecosystem, permanently flooding over 83,000 hectares of farmland and pastures around the wetland, resulting in the loss of livelihoods, and severely impacting the wetland’s biodiversity including the indigenous fish varieties and vanishing of the age-old culture of the people living in and around the lake.

The Department of Fishery, Government of Manipur was established for the proper harnessing of vast natural fisheries resources such as lakes, bells, swamps, etc. and augmenting fish production to meet the growing demand for fish.

Conservation of natural lakes and bells from extinction due to siltation of the bottom of the lakes and ecological changes is also the primary responsibility of the State Fisheries Department.

The implementation of Centrally Sponsored Schemes like Blue Revolution, Aquaculture Programmes under Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY), Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana (PMMSY), and State Sponsored Schemes namely, Loktak Livelihood Mission have covered a significant area of water bodies available in the State under fisheries activities by reclamation of marshy lands, installation of Cage Cultures and Pen Cultures in freshwater lakes and reservoirs, adoption of fish-cum-pisciculture, etc.

The schemes aim to increase the production and productivity of sufficient quantities of commercially important fish both indigenous and exotic species.

Sarang Project

Sareng (Wallago Attu) is an indigenous species of catfish also known as freshwater shark. Locally, it is known as Meitei Sarang. It is considered as the most favorite delicacy of the people of Manipur. In olden days, Sareng thrived in the lakes, rivers and water bodies of Manipur.

A grand feast in connection with house inauguration, mangani chakouba, ningol chakouba, birthday, marriage anniversary, social gatherings, cultural and ritualistic festivals are incomplete without Sareng.

Roughly 10 million rupees are being spent annually in import of Sareng from outside Manipur. The indispensability of Sareng with the socio-cultural lives of the Meiteis and huge expenditure being spent on procurement of Sareng from outside prompted CM N. Biren Singh to make an official announcement of “Sareng Project” during the celebrations of National Fish Farmers Day on 10th July, 2021 for revival and culture of the fish species in the farm ponds of Manipur.

The CM has also announced extension of 50% grant of fish farmers importing Sareng seeds from outside Manipur.

 

Rearing of Sareng started in Manipur immediately after the official announcement. The Department of Fisheries, Government of Manipur took up the initiative as a pilot project in the departmental farm ponds located at Lamphelpat. The Department also facilitated the local progressive fish farmers in import of Sareng seeds by air from Kolkata.

In 2021, around 4500 Sareng seeds have been cultured in the local ponds with the help of enthusiastic fish farmers and demonstrated in the annual Fish Fair cum Fish Crop Competition, 2021.

As on June 2022, around 6500 Sareng seeds (fingerlings) have been imported from Kolkata and distributed to fish farmers. Grants at the tune of 50% of the entire cost of procuring Sareng seeds were provided to the fish farmers by the State Fisheries Department.

On October 2022, 3000 Kg of locally reared Sareng was on sale at the Fish Fair-cum-Fish Crop Competition 2022 for the first time.

The success of the Sareng Project will percolate to more fish farmers in coming years in order to revive the most popular fish species and improve the economy of the fish farmers community.

 Rejuvenation of Pengba (Osteobrama Belangeri), State Fish of Manipur

Pengba is a near threatened indigenous medium carp endemic to Manipur. The state fish was the major seasonal fish in Manipur contributing around 40% of the natural fishery some decades back.

In the recent past, the population of Pengba had declined significantly in the lake and was reported to be ‘regionally extinct in the wild’. Although some progressive farmers have cultivated it in their ponds.

It is now mainly sourced from fish farms and is a prized delicacy both for its protein as well as for the price it fetches. In festive seasons, it can sell for as much as Rs 800 per kg.

Back in December 2020, Pengba was introduced in cage aquaculture for the first time on a trial basis in an attempt to enhance its production and conservation.

Around 500 to 2,500 Pengba fingerlings were released in 10 cages in the Takmu water body at Sendra in the Bishnupur district to enhance production and conservation.

In March 2022, the officials of the Central Inland Fisheries Research Institute (CIFRI) in association with the Manipur Fisheries Department released around 20,000 fingerlings of Pengba in Loktak Lake in situ conservation.

On 11th May 2022, Manipur Chief Minister N. Biren Singh attended a ranching programme aimed at the rejuvenation of Pengba and released 1 lakh Pengba fishlings into Loktak Lake and planned to release around 1 crore.

Fish Fair Cum Fish Crop Competition-An Annual Event

Every year, the Fisheries Department, of the Government of Manipur hosts Fish Fair-cum-Fish Crop Competition on the occasion of the Ningol Chakouba Festival in the month of October-November in the heart of Imphal city.

The primary objective of the fish fair is to boost fish production in the state, facilitate and encourage the fishermen to sell fish grown in their farm ponds and making available to the general public at an affordable price.

In fact, the Fish Fair-cum-Fish Crop competition is one of the biggest annual events organized by the Department of Fisheries, Government of Manipur one day ahead of the Ningol Chakouba Festival since 1976.

A most interesting aspect of the annual state Fish Fair is awarding cash incentives to the fish farmers and registered cooperative societies which contribute to the highest fish production during the particular year.

Every year, the best-participating fish farmers and cooperative societies are awarded cash rewards of Rs 1.00 lakh, Rs 70,000 and Rs 50,000 respectively as per the volume and size of their fish production.

Besides, the highest indigenous fish producers are also awarded a cash reward of Rs 20,000 and consolation prizes of Rs 10,000 each to 20 fish farmers.

Fishery officers of both hill and valley districts with the largest production will also get cash incentives.

Different varieties of fish like Indian Major Carps (Rohu, Catla, Mirgal, Grass Carp, Common carp, Silver carp, and exotic carps including indigenous fishes like Ngaton, Pengba, Khabak, Ukabi and Porong are on sale during the fish fair.

The Fish Mela generates enthusiasm to the fish farmers for boosting fish production to double their income, generate employment opportunities, achieve decent livelihood, etc. which ultimately helps in building a robust economy of the state.

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