Boosting aquaculture in Bhutan to reduce fish imports

A study carried out by the National Center for Aquaculture (NCA) in Gelephu found that Bhutan imported 4,853 metric tonnes (MT) of fish in 2012 costing Indian Rupees (INR) 350 million.

The center is looking at methods and programs to curtail the import of fish, therefore, boosting local production and discouraging the import which would immensely contribute in retaining INR within the country.

NCA pointed out the significant potential in fish farming in Bhutan. “Samdrup Jongkhar, Sarpang, Samtse, Tsirang, Dagana, and Pemagatshel have the required climatic and topographical conditions to enhance the national output of fish by engaging in large scale fish farming,” said an official at NCA, Drukpola.

According to him, among the six potential dzongkhags, Samdrup Jongkhar tops the list when it comes to fish production, at 35 MT every year.

Further, he added that Samdrup Jongkhar has the potential of producing additional tonnes of fish if fish farming can be carried out on government reserved forest land, community water bodies and peripheral wetland that are under utilization or left fallow. “Other dzongkhags could do the same, fish farming infrastructure in these dzongkhags could be scaled-up and rendered more sophisticated to increase the national output of fish,” he added.

However, with ambitious targets come the challenges. There is a need for more farmers to come onboard for partnership programs which will help to collectively produce about 750 MT of fish by 2015 to 2016.

The center is also looking at establishing proper fish farm infrastructure and farm based institution, enhancing the capacity of livestock and fisheries extension professionals and fish farmers, increase the capacity of input producers and hatcheries, coming up with an effective marketing system, and improve and diversify cultivable fish species or breeds.

Further, NCA has prepared a strategy plan which will enable Bhutan to produce 1,500 MT of fish in a year, therefore increasing the farmer’s income and the availability of almost-organic fish protein in the country, and reduce the fish import.

The center has already chalked out plans and identified activities for achieving their targets. They propose to start with encouraging adoption and scaling up of fish farming ventures in addition to providing technological interventions which is expected to enhance the fish productivity.

NCA is set to pursue fish production through farmers’ institution building, breed enhancement and diversification, public-private-partnerships to produce live inputs, especially stunted fingerlings. Further, NCA will work on skills dissemination and enhanced capacity building. Therefore, with such plans in place, the department sees no reason why they cannot achieve their targets.

Meanwhile, NCA is working with farmers in potential fish farming areas to establish fish farms. The center has set up 10 commercial fish farms in Sarpang, 17 in Samdrup Jongkhar, 20 in Samtse, and 8 in Dagana.

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