- Shrimp farming in brackish water is being widely promoted in the Mathura and Hathras districts of Uttar Pradesh.
- The whiteleg shrimp is being cultured in these areas due to its tolerance to salinity and hardy nature.
- The success of shrimp farming in north India can be a gamechanger for farmers. Besides other benefits, shrimp farming on saline wastelands has immense potential for generating employment for locals on a long-term basis.
Seeking to double India’s export earnings from fisheries, the Indian government plans to increase fish production from 137.58 lakh metric tons in 2018-19 to 220 lakh metric tons by 2024-25, under the Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana (PMMSY) scheme which aims to invest Rs. 20,050 crore (Rs. 200 billion) till 2024-25 in critical infrastructure in the fisheries sector. As part of this scheme, the government has started work on creating an export hub in north India and the states of Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh have been identified for it.
To this end, shrimp farming in brackish water is being promoted in a big way in the Mathura and Hathras districts of Uttar Pradesh.
Brackish water is usually found in estuaries when a freshwater river meets the sea. It is less salty than seawater but has more salt than freshwater. Brackish water can have a wide range of salt concentration, generally ranging between 0.5 gms/litre (or 0.5 parts per thousand) to 30 gms/litre (30 ppt). “But in many of India’s inland states, you will find subsoil water with salinity ranging between 5 ppt and 15 ppt. Such pockets can be found in Rajasthan, Western Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana,” said Anil Kumar Awasthi, an independent geologist.
According to a study published in International Soil and Water Conservation Research, an imbalance between incoming and outgoing salt has resulted in salinisation of soils, subsoils and waters in the semi-arid regions of the Yamuna river sub-basin. “It has increased the salinity of stream flows and land nearby,” said Awasthi. Irrigation water becomes toxic to most plants at concentrations above 0.5 ppt. High sodium levels also make the soil hard and compact. This reduces its ability to absorb water. “Limited agriculture can be conducted on these lands as most vegetables and crops are intolerant to high levels of salinity,” said Awasthi.
Such areas support only a particular type of flora and fauna and are very productive for brackishwater aquaculture. So, pockets in the districts of Mathura and Hathras are now being utilised for culturing the popular whiteleg shrimp (also known as king prawn, Pacific white shrimp or the vannamei shrimp). Shrimp farming was piloted here in 2014-15, but did not have much success. The PMSSY and the Indian government’s vision to develop an export hub in the north gave it an impetus.
Know the shrimp
“The whiteleg shrimp (Litopenaeus vannamei) is preferred due to its wide tolerance to salinity and also because of its hardy nature,” said Mahesh Chauhan, an officer with the Fisheries Department in the Mathura district. It also exhibits a fast growth rate and its culture period is significantly shorter than that of tiger prawn, which is also more prone to disease.
But there are also some limitations in culturing this species in north India. In the coastal areas of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, where this variety of shrimp is usually cultured, the temperatures are uniform throughout the year. It makes it more conducive for its growth. “The whiteleg shrimp cannot handle extreme weather, so it hardly grows in north India after October and does not survive the cold temperatures from December to February. Hence, most farmers can only culture them from April/May till July/August,” said Sudha Jha, a marine researcher.
Help at hand
In these districts, the average size of the ponds utilised under shrimp cultivation is one acre and they have a water depth of five feet. “Post-larvae seeds are procured from registered shrimp hatcheries in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. The hatchery owner is expected to acclimatise the shrimp seeds as per the salinity existing at the farm site so as to ensure their better survival,” said Chauhan.
Farmers are trained on aspects such as pond construction, selection of seed, choosing the right fertilisers, feed and probiotics, concept of feed check trays, maintenance of various chemical parameters, use of aerators, harvesting and marketing of the shrimp. The administration also provides technical assistance in testing important soil and water parameters such as pH, total alkalinity, total hardness, calcium, magnesium, salinity, and potash. These parameters need to be maintained at desired levels for the survival and growth of the species.
The average growth rate of the shrimp is approximately 25-30 gms in about 100 days of culture. “The final production rate per acre is about two tonnes, but is dependent on stocking density, growth rate and mortality levels. The shrimp are sold in mandis in Delhi and Faridabad, and the average price fetched is around Rs. 250 to Rs. 300 per kilo. Each farmer makes around Rs. 3 lakh per acre in terms of revenue,” said Chauhan.
But there are some constraints. Farmers often find it tough to access quality inputs like the seed, formulated feed and probiotics, etc. Another important aspect is the fluctuating market for shrimp. “The coronavirus pandemic too has impacted this year’s season, disrupting production schedules and supply chains,” added Chauhan.
In the district of Hathras, Kamal Kumar Keshwani practices shrimp farming on 7.9 acres of land and is looking to further expand it. His farm has become a resource farm for nearby fish farmers who are in the process of taking up shrimp farming. With help from the local administration, Keshwani provides them with seed, feed, consultancy and most importantly, marketing facilities. “The success of shrimp farming in north India can be a game-changer for farmers. Besides other benefits, shrimp farming on saline wastelands has immense potential for generating employment for locals on a long-term basis,” he said.
So far, the project, which was started on a pilot basis to check if inland regions of the country that are unsuited for agriculture activities can be utilised alternately and economically for activities related to aquaculture, has seen reasonable success. “We have 27 farmers cultivating whiteleg shrimp in the Mathura district at the moment. By the end of this year, 50 more will have taken it up,” said Chauhan. Seeing its potential, the state government has also expanded the project to the inland saline areas of Agra and Aligarh division of the state.
Banner image: Ponds constructed for shrimp farming in Uttar Pradesh. Photo by Fisheries Department, Uttar Pradesh.