Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Friday, Aug 30, 2002
Agri-Biz & Commodities
Fears over import of exotic fish, shrimp Potential harm to domestic species
CHENNAI, Aug. 29
ALLEGATIONS of unregulated and clandestine import of exotic varieties of fish and shrimps into the country have raised serious concerns about the harmful impact that they could have on domestic species and the environment.
The major routes of entry of such non-indigenous species are the `ornamental fish' traders, and the shrimp farmers. Both these businesses have emerged as money-spinners in the domestic and the export market, according to industry sources.
Mr Jose Cyriac, Chairman, Marine Products Export Development Authority (MPEDA), while addressing the Expert Consultation on Development of Sustainable Shrimp Farming in India, here on Wednesday, cautioned that shrimp farmers in Andhra Pradesh have imported into India and cultured a non-indigenous shrimp, Penaeus vanameii, an American species.
The MPEDA has notified the State Government and instructed its own officials to inspect the shrimp farms and take appropriate action. The frequent outbreak of viral disease in domestically cultured shrimps, the Black Tiger (Penaeus monodon), had prompted the farmers to import a non-indigenous variety in the belief that these are resistant to disease, he said.
However, according to scientists, P. vanameii had earlier been introduced into the South-East Asian countries, and there too disease outbreaks had hit the culture. In Ecuador, the home ground of P. vanameii, disease outbreaks have hit the shrimps.
Industry sources pointed out that the comment by Mr Cyriac brings out into the open a major concern that the industry had been facing, and to which the authorities concerned had turned a blind eye, they alleged. The call for action by MPEDA was welcome, and had to be taken up by the State Governments and Central Government authorities concerned, they said.
Trade sources said that this was not the first occasion that the shrimp farmers had imported non-indigenous species. For instance, last year, when the demand for fresh water prawns, scampi was on the increase, the seed prices had skyrocketed and seeds of a non-indigenous fresh water species had been imported, they alleged.
Several years ago, the import of shrimp seeds had been believed to be among the primary cause of the outbreak of viral disease in shrimps. At that time, according to trade sources, shrimp seeds had been imported under the guise of "live shrimp feed", they said.
According to industry sources, the ornamental fish trade, imports large numbers of exotic species into India. However, in the absence of concrete regulations on the import of exotic species, the imports were essentially a grey area, authorities concerned said.
With ornamental fish tanks catching the fancy of the corporate and domestic segment of the market, there is a major demand for wide variety of fishes. Traders have taken to importing carnivorous and flesh eating fish such as the piranha, and the `arowana' a fish that is believed to be a positive influence under the Feng Shui, the Chinese version of our own Vaastu Shastra. The imported fish, depending on the variety, can range from Rs 100 up to Rs 25,000 per pair or more as in the case of the `arowana'.
The concern that such imports raise is the potential harm that these can do if they are accidentally released in the wild. For instance, the piranha the stuff of many horror movies is a voracious carnivore. Or the imported exotic species could carry diseases that could wipe out the domestic variety. Or the predatory fish could simply decimate the domestic populations. Apart from the damage to the ecosystem, when domestic populations of fish are displaced, the livelihoods of local communities are also affected, according to the sources.
Imports of non-indigenous aquatic species were a major concern in developed countries for which there are stringent regulatory and monitoring systems. For instance, in the US, the recent discovery of snakehead fish (from the Asian countries) in the wild attracted widespread media attention, and the Government had to launch a major programme to eradicate them, sources pointed out.
The major concern in India was the total lack of awareness among the trade about the potential for damage that these imported species represent. And the lack of stringent regulations to dictate the conditions of import, they said.
According to officials, there is yet to be put in place a stringent monitoring and quarantine regulations on the import of aquatic species. Work is on to frame regulations and are likely to be in place during the tenth five-year plan, they said. Quarantine regulations and the infrastructure required are bound to be expensive and involves high tech aspects.
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