The future of sustainable fish farming

‘Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach him to fish, and you feed him for life,’ goes the proverb. And if you integrate biofloc fish farming with that, you can feed thousands of people for life.

Most of the fish consumed in the world today comes not from the sea, rivers or lakes, but from fish farms. Aquaculture, responsible for more than 50% of India’s fish production, is an industry in its own right, and has also given rise to many businesses related to it. India is the third largest fish producer in the world, after China and Indonesia, and second in the world in aquaculture. Export earnings from fish and fisheries products add substantially to the foreign exchange reserves and carp and shrimp contribute the most to it. Since 2013, the Indian government has spent more than INR 1,700 crores to promote fisheries.

Fish is recognised as a good source of Omega 3 fatty acids, but they do not produce omega 3 on their own. Omega 3s are produced by microscopic algae in water, and these algae are consumed by forage fish like herrings and sardines, and by herbivorous fish. These fish obtain omega 3s from the microalgae and are eaten by the larger, carnivorous fish. Carnivorous fish need a lot of omega 3 acids to grow in size, and fish feed used for traditional fish farming comprises chiefly of fish oil and fishmeal (ground fish). Producing and consuming so much of forage fish makes aquaculture an unsustainable industry. Also, fish waste, leftover fish feed, antibiotics fed to the fish etc spill into the water or sink to the floor, contaminating the water as well as depleting oxygen levels, impacting biodiversity and killing aquatic creatures. Land-based fish farming, especially with biofloc technology is the best possible way to reduce stress on oceans and intensify aquaculture.

Biofloc is the term collectively used to denote all organic matters in fish ponds, like bacteria, protozoa, algae, diatoms, rotifers, fecal matter etc. Recognised as a sustainable and environment friendly technique that helps produce protein-rich feed for the fish and also improves water quality, biofloc fish farming technology balances carbon and nitrogen in the system. Biofloc has all essential amino acids, vitamins and minerals and has a natural probiotic effect that boosts disease resistance in fish. It stabilises culture environment and boosts productivity. It holds great scope in the Indian context since it is low cost and can be applied in ponds as well as tanks.

Fish is recognised as a very good source of protein, but overfishing (to meet the ever growing demand), can disturb the marine ecosystem. But with biofloc farming, nitrate, nitrite and ammonia etc toxic substances get converted to proteinaceous feed for the fish. The process involves the growth of algae, foam formation in water, and then finally biofloc formation. Fish in the tanks feed on these bioflocs, that consist of beneficial bacteria, algae, fungi, protozoa, diatoms, invertebrates, detritus and other microorganisms, all of which are held together by mucous. They look like sludge, and as photosynthesis converts them all to nutritious food, so that there is a readily available supplementary source of food for fish in between the pellet feedings. The occurrence of pathogens is cut down, while fish health improves with better feed. The gills of the fish are also naturally filtered by the floc.

Biofloc farming mitigates the chances of diseases entering the aquaculture facility from incoming water. Instead of removing suspended solids from the water, like in the traditional aquaculture methods.

Called the new ‘blue revolution’, biofloc farming is a new technology which works on the principle of in situ microorganism production in aquaculture. Traditional aquaculture makes use of antibiotics and chemical preservatives like formalin and hydrogen peroxide. As biofloc technology reduces the use of chemicals to clean the aquaculture tanks, the chances of antibiotics entering the fish are eliminated too. Since it is more of a waste treatment system, it has a very low ‘water footprint’, with minimal environmental impact. It works in harmony with nature, as molasses are added to water as carbohydrate source to boost bacteria and microorganism growth in water, keeping the water quality at optimum.

Bioclean Aqua Fish, a biological water conditioner, works well for marine as well as freshwater fish farming. It stabilises water conditions in the ponds for rearing fish, aids biofloc formation and enhances the water treatment in fish ponds. It helps to maintain pond bottom health by decomposing the organic matter in fish ponds, improves oxygen levels, maintains pH balance and lessens the proportion of hydrogen sulphide and ammonia in water- these gases are toxic and are harmful for the fish. It improves the quality and colour of water by reducing the level of dissolved nitrates and phosphates in water, and promotes healthy fish growth. Certified antibiotic free by the Coastal Aquaculture Authority – India, it swiftly decomposes organic sludge in the pond, effectively cutting down the chances of malodour formation.

With the growth of world population, the demand for food is also rising, and the same goes for seafood too. And aquaculture, as a food-producing industry, needs to align with more sustainable methods to produce adequate fish for the rising population without polluting or contaminating water bodies. Closed aquaculture, particularly biofloc technology, helps to recycle aquaculture waste and use it as food for the fish. With particulates in water and dense microbial colonies, this technology makes use of very little equipment and is an inexpensive way to carry out closed aquaculture.

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