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Bye-bye message for cold fish in dry run

Purulia, June 7: Fish-eaters in Bengal may soon have access to lots of fresh fish straight out of ponds instead of waiting for stored stuff from other states.

The seeds of a pisciculture revolution have been sown in the “backwaters” of Purulia with the setting up of the first “one-stop aqua shop” by a group of fishermen at Kaipara in Barabazar, about 280 km from Calcutta.

If all goes well, good quantities of tasty indigenous varieties of fish would soon be available, cutting back supply of “imported, cold storage” fish from states such as Andhra Pradesh.

Purulia, notorious for its water scarcity and poor resources, was chosen with a purpose. “A success here will mean the project can be replicated in (the rest of) India and other Southeast Asian countries,” said H.K. De, a fish scientist from the Central Institute of Freshwater Aquaculture (CIFA), Bhubaneswar.

The shop is a single-window outlet for all inputs that a fish farmer may require in the cultivation of quality fingerlings and large-sized varieties. The inputs include juvenile fish, fish feed, prawn seed, chemicals, and support in planning, information and training.

The concept is the collective brainchild of the Support to Regional Aquatic Resources and Management (Stream), an initiative founded by the Network of Aquaculture Centres in the Asia-Pacific, the UK’s Department for International Development, and the Food and Agriculture Organisation.

“The other stakeholders in the Kaipara pilot project are the Gramin Vikas Trust, the Government of India, the fisheries departments of Bengal and Orissa, research institutions like the CIFA, panchayat samitis and, of course, the fishermen themselves,” Stream’s communication hub manager Rubu Mukherjee said.

“Before the concept took shape, we were involved for two years in a consensus building process wherein farmers, government officials, policy-makers in Delhi and fishery institutes were apprised of the effort,” he said.

Mukherjee was speaking after a planning session in Purulia a few days before the project’s launch on Tuesday.

“We found that fishermen were complaining about difficulties in getting the various inputs required for pisciculture. A longer lease period of five years or more for perennial ponds was also a common demand by farmers who wanted to cultivate full-size quality fish,” he said.

When fish farmer Kuddus Ansari from Kaipara and others met fisheries minister Kiranmoy Nanda in Calcutta last October, he spoke about the sheer running around they had to do to get a good yield and make the fish-business viable.

“I also told him only one official in an entire block looked after our enquiries and problems,” Ansari said.

“With an average of 1,800 farmers in each block, it is impossible for him (the official) to answer all the queries. He (Nanda) said increasing staff was difficult but did suggest that some of us could be trained to help other fishermen. This single-window system is a step in that direction.”

District fisheries officer Sudhakar Patra is optimistic about the Kaipara project. “In a region dominated by single-crop farming, fish culture can be a viable alternative,” he said.

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