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Key Drivers, Actors, and Policies in the Indian Context

A Brief History of Blue Revolution 2.0

This paper maps out the key drivers, actors, and policies that have shaped the shrimp aquaculture industry in post-independence India. While the existing aquaculture regulations vilify the farmers for the industry’s socioecological disaster, this paper—through its analysis—shifts the liability to the multilateral consultancies and technical research institutions that were arbitrated by the postcolonial developmental state with the help of international aid under the guise of food security and alternate livelihoods while the shrimps were being exported.

In 2014, culture fisheries surpassed capture fisheries as a source of seafood at the global level for human consumption (Tacon and Metian 2018). The sector, dominated by Asian countries, constitutes 89% of the total global production (in volume terms) in the last 20 years (FAO 2020a). Even as India looks to further amplify its exports in the coming decade, it has already risen to the top, only behind China, in aquaculture production in the world (FAO 2020a) and is the leading supplier of shrimp and frozen fish in the international seafood markets1 (Televisory 2019).

The Revolution ‘Blues’: Context and Problem

The Blue Revolution in capture fisheries (Blue Revolution 1.0) led to the establishment of a dual fishing economy in India—one consisting of the artisanal fishers and the other of the mechanised boat fishers (or shrimpers) in the 1960s (Bavinck 2001). Similarly, another Blue Revolution 2.0 has emerged—a revolution in culture fisheries, with its first wave in the 1990s and the second one in the prior decade—that has created a third fishing economy of the fish farmers.2 What is similar between the two? Both the revolutions served to tap on the export potential of shrimp in India, also called the “Pink Gold Rush” (Cruz-Torres 2000; Rubinoff 2001). Another aspect about the two revolutions is that as one fishing economy came to the fore, the other was pushed to the margins.

Industry apologists constantly invoke fairy-tale imaginations of the Blue Revolutions’ potential contribution to the export economy, while they overlook their effects on the important third-world local ecosystems and dependent livelihoods. Several empirical studies have documented the socioecological crisis of the shrimp industry as it continues to expand, contributing about 73% of India’s $7 billion seafood exports as of 2019–20 (MPEDA 2020). The soaring export potential of the new economy becomes a source of pride for the policymakers and liberal economists (Economic Times 2018), but for small-scale fishers, the “newcomers were at best a nuisance and sometimes even a disaster” (Bavinck 2001).

The literature on the socioecological impacts of the industry as a result of the 1991 economic reforms has laid a predominant emphasis on the argument of the neo-liberal turn and the consequent culpability of the individual farm owners and entrepreneurs for the same. This understanding has paved the way for outright prohibition (S Jagannath v Union of India and Ors 1997) and regulation of the industry at the level of the farm and individual farm owners (GoI 2005), which has largely proved to be ineffective, as seen in the empirical studies that have followed such regulatory measures (Jayanthi et al 2018, 2019).

What then is the problem? What were and are the key drivers, actors, and policies that continue to perpetuate this socio­ecological disaster? This paper aims to answer this question by tracing the evolution of the aquaculture industry from the post-independence period and its consequences for fisheries resources and artisanal fisher livelihoods.

Major Events

As the narrative unfolds from the post-independence period to 2020, the timeline of the events has been divided into five different phases for our analysis, and the developments occurring in each of the phases are presented in detail in the following sections.

 

Incubation phase (1947–79)—Institutions and strategic land invasion: The Indian fisheries sector was characterised as primitive, ignorant, unorganised, ill-equipped, and caste-based by the National Planning Committee in 1946 (Kurien 1985), therefore suggesting a social rigidity that would prevent economic efficiency (Karnad 2017). This framing of the industry attracted special attention during the post-independence period—with the institution of planned development—through successive five-year plans and setting up of technical research institutions. In 1947, two major research stations were set up under the Ministry of Food and Agriculture—the Central Inland Fisheries Research Station (CIFRS) in Kolkata, West Bengal and Central Marine Fisheries Research Station (CMFRS) in Mandapam Camp, Tamil Nadu (Silas 2003).

In 1953, the first shrimp consignment of just 13 tonnes was exported from Kerala by a private merchant to the United States (US), which immediately attracted a demand for the shrimp species from India (Kurien 1985). The newly formed CMFRS in collaboration with the Indo–Norwegian Project (INP) conducted marine resource surveys, “discovered” the untapped shrimp resources available off the coast of Kochi, and introduced bottom trawling techno­logies for capturing the newly “discovered” shrimp for export in 1958 (Kurien 1985).

A few years later, the research stations of CIFRS and CMFRS were elevated to the status of research institutes and transformed to the current Central Inland Fisheries Research Institute (CIFRI) and the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI) in 1959 (CIFRI 2010) and 1961 (James 1986), shifting their headquarters to Barrackpore, West Bengal and Kochi, Kerala, respectively. In 1967, around the same time when the green revolution in the agriculture sector was unravelling, these institutes were bought under the administrative control of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), envisioning a similar revolution for the fisheries sector. In 1972, the Marine Products Export Promotion Council (MPEPC) which was esta­blished by the Government of India (GoI) in September 1961, converged with the Marine Products Export Development Authority (MPEDA), a statutory body that was instituted by the MPEDA Act, 1972 with the exclusive mandate to promote marine product exports in the country (MPEDA 2018).

Fishers who released the shrimps they caught back into the waters until the 1960s as some “worm from the sea” started recognising their export potential and brought them to the landing sites in the 1970s.3 The word about the quick profits in the “pink gold”4 spread swiftly to other states and led to the Blue Revolution 1.0 in the 1960s and the 1970s. From 2,238 tonnes at `4.8 thousand per tonne in 1962, the shrimp exports rocketed to 23,181 tonnes at `13.5 thousand per tonne in 1970 to 53,511 tonnes at `41.7 thousand per tonne in 1979 (Table 1). It was at this stage that—as the prices of shrimps were soaring owing to the Blue Revolution 1.0—the Blue Revolution 2.0 was conceived.

 

Shifts from capture to culture: In the early 1970s, both CIFRI and CMFRI shifted their focus towards aquaculture research for the first time. The dearth of foreign exchange ensured that the government grasped every possibility to secure export earnings (Bavinck 2001). With the increasing pressure on the natural shrimp stocks, reduced yield from conventional fisheries, and expected changes in the law of the sea (UNCLOS III5), governments began to devote attention to aquaculture as an alternative source for shrimp. Five All India Coordinated Research Projects were launched from 1971 to 1973, which were considered to be a turning point in the history of Indian aquaculture.

The Aquaculture Development and Coordination Programme (ADCP), a project under the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), conducted a regional workshop on aquaculture planning in 1975 in Thailand. Each of the 10 participating nations came up with a National Aquaculture Development Plan (NADP) for the following decade and set an overall targeted production of 3 million tonnes, to which India pledged to contribute the maximum (41%) (FAO 1976).

The proposed argument justifying the plan to promote aquaculture in India was the increasing demand for seafood from its growing population (George and Sinha 1976). But in 1973, just before drafting the plan, as reported in the plan document itself, India was exporting a total of 49,000 tonnes, mainly of shrimp and other crustaceans worth `795.8 million. This accounted for 2.5% of the country’s total export income and contributed to nearly a quarter of the international trade in shrimp products back then, while it was importing just 2,500 tonnes of freshwater fish purely to meet the immediate requirements of the Northeast states. Therefore, the argument that India needed aquaculture to fulfil its seafood demand was not true.

A strategic, well-phased programme was designed towards fostering aquaculture in India for the next 10 years. Vast areas of land that were assumed to be derelict and available for aquaculture were identified and production targets were set for each year for different cultivable species of fish and shrimp. However, it must be noted that there was no specific emphasis for shrimp aquaculture in the plan, as it formed only 2.3% of the overall target production of 1.06 million tonnes of cultured fish for the 10-year plan period. The main objectives of the plan were to secure a greater flow of institutional finance for fish culture programmes, make water areas available to farmers on long-term leases, etc, thereby increasing the export income of marine products. The FAO workshop also set the stage for alluring foreign investments and technical know-hows for aquaculture from around the world and acknowledged the need for external assistance to promote aquaculture in the country.

 

Maturation phase (1979 to the early 1990s)—Era of techno-scientific advancements: With the increasing export prices of shrimp, the Sixth Five-Year Plan in 1979 came out with goals for further ramping up of seafood export, particularly of the high-valued shrimps, and the budget for the fisheries sector was increased from 3.52% to 5.62% of the total agricultural outlay (Krishnan and Birthal 2002). Halfway through the NADP in 1979, the government realised that any further increase in area and production cannot be achieved without hatcheries6 in the country. Until then, India was largely dependent on local fry catchers for the collection of seeds. Therefore, the Sixth Five-Year Plan made available subsidies for setting up shrimp hatcheries and commissioned for all-India surveys on marine and inland fish marketing. The books published by these studies conducted by the Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad (IIM-A) in 1986 are clearly indicative of the complete shift of the discourse from “brackish water fish farming” to “export-oriented prawn farming” at the end of the 10 years of the NADP (Srivastava and Vathsala 1984; Srivastava et al 1987).

This phase marked major policy decisions that gave way for the commercial shrimp aquaculture industry in India. International consultancies funded by development agencies were solicited by the GoI for developing hatchery and feed technology in the country and facilitating training and outreach programmes, some of which are elucidated in the following subsection.

 

Role of the state, research institutions, and international agencies: A two-member mission from the Department of Fisheries, Thailand visited Tamil Nadu for a month in 1981 at the request of the Indian government. This consultancy was funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Authority (SIDA) and executed by the FAO under the
Bay of Bengal Programme (BoBP). The major objective of the consultancy was to select a suitable site and technology for setting up a hatchery. The team visited the 10 demonstration farms that were built by the fisheries department in 1979 and the only two private farms back then in Tamil Nadu along the coast that were owned by big corporates, namely Hindustan Lever Ltd and Tata Oil Mills Cooperation (Chalayondeja
and Saraya 1982).

One of the several recommendations of the consultancy was to encourage the lake fisherfolk to convert their “lesser productive fishing grounds” to fish farms that were “potentially more productive” after acquiring sufficient training from the extension services of the fisheries research institutions (Chalayondeja and Saraya 1982). This recommendation was echoed in the study conducted by IIM-A that unapologetically charged the artisanal fishers for haphazardly exploiting the brackish water resources using their traditional fishing gears. With the stagnation of exports after “maximum exploitation” of shrimps from the marine capture fisheries in the 1970s, the study by India’s top business school concluded that it was necessary to ensure “optimum exploitation” of brackish water resources in order to meet the export demands of the country (Srivastava et al 1987). The study recommended that the lands reserved for the economically weaker sections of the society, which are vested with the state governments, be leased out for long periods on liberal terms to private entrepreneurs, citing that they have not bought any “economically productive” results. The traditional paddy-cum-shrimp farms in Kerala were con­sidered as not economically remunerative and therefore it was advocated for formulating land utilisation policies that encourage their conversion to perennial shrimp farms (Srivastava and Vathsala 1984).

The discourses in these studies reflected the extreme push for export-oriented aquaculture while completely sidelining the traditional livelihoods of small-scale fishers as economically inefficient and unproductive. As per the recommendations of these studies, several training and extension programmes were conducted to convert the brackish water resources of small-scale fishers to shrimp farms along the coast. These various extension activities triggered the so-called “scientific” culture in areas where shrimp farming was non-existent (Srivastava et al 1987).

The ICAR with the assistance of the UNDP started a subproject in 1979—the Centre of Advanced Studies in Mariculture at the CMFRI that facilitated scientists to go abroad for training in specialised subject areas in aquaculture (Silas 2003). Another study conducted by the BoBP recommended for the adoption of shrimp hatchery technology in the Indian private sector and funded training programmes to attract private investments to the industry. Utilising these programmes, several small-scale shrimp hatcheries were set up for commercial production. The ICAR also set up the Central Institute for Brackishwater Aquaculture (CIBA) in 1987 to serve as a nodal agency for brackish water aquaculture in India (CIBA 2019a).

With recommendations for converting traditional rice–shrimp fields to perennial shrimp farms and bringing newer areas under cultivation, the linkage between integrated rice–aquaculture fields were being delinked (Edwards 2015) by the end of this phase. Previously, in states like West Bengal where traditional shrimp farms were common, the pond’s natural flora and fauna were its sole feed sources. States like Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu where there was no history of traditional shrimp farms, farmers had adopted supplementary feed practices made from locally available materials like trash fish. This method of feed preparation was time-consuming and the availability of the raw materials throughout the year was a concern, which affected the yield in the farms (Wood et al 1992).

The ICAR approached the United Kingdom (UK) government-funded post-harvest fisheries project of the FAO’s BoBP again for its technical assistance but this time for developing the shrimp feed industry. The poor quality of the locally manufactured shrimp feed and the chronically short supply of the raw materials created a case for the multilateral consultants to suggest the permit for import of quality fishmeal into India at non-prohibitive rates of duty. Therefore, in 1992, a Thai multinational conglomerate started investing in India, honouring the invitation by the then Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao (CP Aquaculture India nd), which later started its first commercial fishmeal industry at Chennai in 1996.

At the end of this phase in 1990, India was exporting approximately 61,900 tonnes of shrimp (Thulasimani 2004), out of which 35,000 tonnes (56.54%) (FAO 2020b) were from the brackish water aquaculture compared to only 5.84% at the end of its previous phase, but the shrimp prices had dropped from `41.7 thousand per tonne to just `13.29 thousand per tonne in 1990 with the increasing supply (Table 1). By the end of this phase, the Blue Revolution 1.0 was on a decline and the stage was now set for the rise of the Blue Revolution 2.0.

 

The disaster (from the early 1990s to the early 2000s)—The boom, the bust, diseases, and conflicts: Several studies suggest that the Indian coastal aquaculture was a sunshine sector that emerged during this phase with the government’s new economic policy in 1991 (Krishnan and Birthal 2002; Mukul 1994; Pokrant and Reeves 2001), but as was shown in the previous two phases, the idea for Blue Revolution 2.0 was already conceived, incubated, and nurtured since the early 1970s as a follow-up to the “Pink Gold Rush” from the Blue Revolution 1.0 of the 1960s. The premise for the rise of the sector post-liberalisation was staged by the strategic techno-scientific advancements and policy recommendations that occurred in the industry in its previous four decades since independence. In fact, at the end of the previous phase, shrimp aquaculture was already contributing 56.54% of the shrimp exports that further increased to 86.45% at the end of the first wave of the Blue Revolution 2.0 in 2000 (Table 1).

The enticement of the exploitable profits in the industry fostered by the enabling environment of the state policies, research institutions, and multilateral consultancies led to the development of several large-scale shrimp aquaculture projects in the country during this phase. The sales income of six fishing companies soared by 176.1% to `83.8 crore in the first half of 1993–94, while their net profits nearly tripled by 269.2% to `6.8 crore (Mukul 1994). However, the sudden boom in profits in the first half of the decade was immediately busted in the middle of 1994 with infections caused by several viral diseases, especially the white spot disease in tiger shrimps (Karunasagar et al 1998). The disease was previously reported in other countries and is argued to have spread to India through illicit import of seeds from Thailand to the farms of Andhra Pradesh (Sangamaheswaran and Jeyaseelan 2001). With the diagnosis of the virus, the farmers drained the infected ponds directly into the local streams that affected even the natural stocks of tiger shrimps and other species, thus completely hurting the industry for any possible revival.

Along with the disease, the industry faced widespread demonstrations and conflicts along the coastal areas due to the ingress of salinity and degradation of agricultural lands and coastal commons, etc. The term “rape and run” was coined by a former FAO aquaculture officer Imre Csavas (1994) as a derogatory analogy to denote the practice of shrimp farmers who turn significant profits and abandon the ponds after contaminating the land and groundwater sources. A public interest litigation was filed in the Supreme Court by S Jagannath, a Gandhian (Mukul 1994) from the Bhoodhan movement working in Tamil Nadu along the Cauvery delta (Rigby 1987). The extremity of the ecological damage and conflicts due to shrimp farms can be seen listed in the final judgment of the Supreme Court. The bench ordered for the demolition of all farms in the Coastal Regulation Zones (CRZs) and to constitute an authority to compensate the local villagers and restore the ecological damage caused (S Jagannath v Union of India and Ors 1997).

The European Union and the Middle Eastern countries imposed a ban on marine products from India stating quality reasons. The US, too, insisted on strict quality inspection of products (Thulasimani 2004), which caused several corporates and new farmers to start withdrawing from the industry after incurring heavy losses during the later stages of this phase. Major instability in production and yield during a disease breakout was observed in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Gujarat compared to Kerala, West Bengal, and Odisha where some form of traditional aquaculture was already present. This phase reflected the huge trade-off in risk between intensifying production for profits versus carrying out extensive aquaculture for livelihoods (Krishnan and Birthal 2002). Though the price of shrimp increased from `13.29 thousand per tonne to `40.06 thousand per tonne and the overall production increased by 80.73% during this phase (Table 1), the ramifications of the socioecological disaster from this phase were much more visible in its following phase in India.

 

The void phase (2001–09)—Dubious silence: The calm before the storm: This phase was a seemingly silent period as the industry faced a major setback at the end of its previous phase. The 7%–10% annual increase in exports that the industry was experiencing every year in its previous phase had come down to an average of a 0.41% increase in quantity and a 0.47% increase in value with highly fluctuating prices in the export markets (MPEDA 2020) (Figure 1). Compared to the 80.73% increase in the previous phase, this phase had only a total of 16.7% increase in quantity. This trajectory of the industry was opposite to the Indian economy that was growing at about 5%–6% annually since 2003 (Corbridge 2010) and is indicative of the large-scale ecological, social, and economic damage that was caused during the earlier phase, leading to an absolute collapse of the industry.

The Supreme Court judgment in December 1996 that mandated the formation of an authority by January 1997 was finally established eight years later in June 2005 with the enactment of the Coastal Aquaculture Authority (CAA) Act (GoI 2005). The CAA was expected to compute the compensation for damage to the ecology by the shrimp farmers and implement the “polluter pays principle,” demolish the farms in the CRZs, take measures to reverse the ecological damage, etc. However, it ended up being a mere licensor for aquaculture farms and its allied industries with little to no intent of doing any damage control. Within a couple of years, a total of 11,387 shrimp farms had been registered by the CAA (2009), completely missing its intended purpose as stated in the Supreme Court judgment.

Shrimp farming in India until 2009 was synonymous with monoculture of giant tiger shrimp (Penaeus monodon) and after the disease breakout, most of the South East Asian countries started shifting towards the culture of the exotic whiteleg shrimp (Litopenaeus vannamei), a native of the Pacific coast (Thitamadee et al 2016). The GoI authorised the CAA to grant permission for importing broodstock7 of the exotic species after a pilot-scale study initiated in 2003 was successful. Initially, the six suppliers of the specific pathogen-free (SPF) Litopenaeus vannamei broodstock were identified and nine hatcheries were given approval for the import of broodstock and seed production of the SPF Litopenaeus vannamei (CAA 2009). In 2009–10, 15 more hatcheries were approved by the CAA and a total number of 30,600 broodstock were imported to the country. Further, 6,378 farms were registered with the CAA, under which 107 farms were given permission to cultivate the new species of shrimps (CAA 2010).

Technically, the new species has several advantages for the entrepreneurs intent on huge profit-making. It could be stocked at high densities due to their less-aggressive nature leading to a much higher production for the same unit of land. The new species also resides in the water column unlike the tiger shrimp that rests on the soil beneath, making the land more contaminated and difficult for feeding. Further, to increase the production, the ponds will just have to be dug deeper to increase the height of the water column rather than increasing the area under cultivation like for the previous species, thereby directly affecting the groundwater table. Stocking at higher densities also require intensive farm management, the lack of which might lead to a higher organic content in the effluent water, affecting the local ecologies.

At the end of this phase, the stage was set for the second wave of the Blue Revolution 2.0 in India. Lands that were abandoned in the 1990s were now being encouraged by the CAA and MPEDA to cultivate shrimp again but of the Litopenaeus vannamei species. By the end of this phase, the CAA evolved to become more of a disease and less of an environment regulating authority. Any intent of protecting the environment shown by the CAA was to avoid recirculating the polluted water released from the farm back into the farm that would affect the yield or cause disease in the farm and not for protecting the local ecologies per se or reversing the ecological damage caused by the farm, which was expected of the authority as in the Supreme Court judgment.

The crop boom phase (2010 to present)—The era of resurgence: From 2010 to the present, India’s seafood exports have flourished with an exponential increase (Figure 2, p 51) of 105.26% by quantity (319.28% for shrimps alone) and 363.4% by value (482.99% for shrimp alone) with an all-time high of $7.08 billion ($4.85 billion from shrimp alone) in 2018 (MPEDA 2020). The value of shrimp increased to about `51.78 thousand per tonne in 2018 from the low `32.03 thousand per tonne at the end of the previous phase in 2009. The export value of the newly introduced species reached its maximum in 2013–14 at `64.25 thousand per tonne after which the prices have begun to fall again and are expected to crash even lower due to the COVID-19 pandemic (PTI 2020).

The number of hatcheries increased to 259, out of which 252 are located in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh and broodstock numbers increased to 6,05,264 in March 2016 (CAA 2016) compared to the nine hatcheries and 30,600 broodstock in 2009–10. There have been reports of several small-scale hatcheries illegally using locally reared broodstock from aquaculture ponds in order to reduce the high costs of importing and quarantine checks. Such seeds are said to be unhealthy, making the industry vulnerable to another disease breakout like in the 1990s. Newer companies have entered the feed businesses and existing feed companies expanded their production. As of 2015, India had 25 major feed companies with a total production estimated to be around 1.25 million metric tonnes (MT), excluding the several smaller feed mills that have developed along the coast (Shrimp News International 2015).

Current Scenario: What Is at Stake?

Different concepts like blue growth, blue economy, blue revolution, and blue finance have been on the rise in the global discourse on oceans following the Earth Summit in 2012, with the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015 and the UN Ocean Conference in 2017. Although given different names, they all have the same vision of tapping the untapped economic potential of the oceans through the creation of newer frontiers to serve the world’s growing population.8

In accordance with the international discourse, India launched the Neel Kranti Mission in 2016 and approved a total central budget of `3,000 crore for five years with the objective to triple its production and export earnings by 2020 (GoI 2017). For the first time after independence, the annual budget in 2019 allocated funds for setting up a separate ministry for fisheries at the centre. With the Neel Kranti Mission coming to a close in 2020, the newly formed ministry launched its first scheme, the Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana in September 2020 that aims—with an investment of `20,050 crore—to further enhance exports to `1 lakh crore by 2024–25, which is more than double the current export value9 (GoI 2020). This is the highest-ever investment made in the fisheries and aquaculture sector in the country. India also came up with a draft mariculture policy, shifting the focus now to mariculture farms in the seas with the idea of commercialising the mariculture technologies being developed in the laboratories. The currently praised and acclaimed brackish water production of around 6 lakh MT fades away in contrast to the estimated production of 4–8 million MT (GoI 2019) from mariculture in India.

The scheme and the policy documents read very similar to the studies that were conducted in the 1970s and 1980s, making the case for shrimp aquaculture—highlighting the current needs and its potential for the future, strategically selecting suitable areas for leasing in the seas by the government, enticing private players to step into the industry to tap the export potential, and all of this under the pretence of providing food and nutritional security for the nation and livelihood and entrepreneurial opportunities to the coastal communities (GoI 2019). Meanwhile, the newly formed “social sciences” division in the fisheries and aquaculture research institutes has largely limited itself to training and extension services, glorifying aquaculture for its economic benefits and encouraging more entrepreneurs to adopt “sustainable” shrimp farming (CIBA 2019b).

Conclusions and the Way Forward

There have been very few academic studies critically analysing the socioecological impacts of the Blue Revolution 2.0 from its second wave (Jayanthi et al 2019; Jayanthi et al 2018; Salunke et al 2020), while most of the media reports have continuosly lauded it for its rapid growth (Economic Times 2018). The widespread animosity towards shrimp farming from the 1990s at the local level has been forgotten or suppressed by the shrimp farmers through the display of placatory acts like building temples, water tanks, and other charities (Immanuel and Narayanan 2022).10 A recent remote sensing study by a researcher from CIBA has documented an increase in aquaculture area under cultivation by 879% to 37,512 ha from 1988 to 2013, but only 15,274 ha have been registered with the CAA (Jayanthi et al 2018). Mangroves have contributed 5%, agricultural lands 28.1%, and mudflats 51.65% to the overall aquaculture expansion (Jayanthi et al 2018). This expansion is expected to have further increased in the past decade with the second wave of the Blue Revolution 2.0. It can be argued that the flow of export value has merely been a disguised form of loss of value from the local ecosystems, spirited away from the local communities (Robbins 2012), while the seafood traders in the distant capitals return significant profits.

There have been increasing complaints of white spot disease in the pacific whiteleg shrimp as well, but since the natural stock in the Pacific coast is not affected due to the release of effluents from the diseased ponds directly to the Indian waters, the industry has been managing to survive from a widespread disease outbreak. The threat of the virus from the contaminated effluents affecting the natural stocks of the native species in the Indian coast are highly possible, and such seafood species reach the local markets through capture fisheries without any quarantine checks, giving rise to questions of availability of healthy and sustainable seafood consumption options for the local population.

The increase in feed companies has led to creating newer markets for by-catches11 owing to excessive trawling. This is highly unsustainable as the by-catches have become more valuable in the recent years because of the demand for the feed from the shrimp aquaculture industry, supporting the already unsustainable trawling industry from the Blue Revolution 1.0. Recent studies have shown that 69% of fishmeal and 75% of fish oil production went to seafood farming as of 2016, with fishing vessels systematically plundering the oceans for species that have not been previously used for fishmeal production, including the juvenile fish (Changing Markets Foundation 2019), leading to unsustainability of both capture and culture fisheries.

One of the several reasons the industry is being promoted in India is in the interest of food security, but for the first time in 2018, India exported more frozen shrimp (111.10%) than what was actually cultured during the year. Until 2009 (from 1979 to 2009), India was exporting only 25%–30% of the total shrimp (capture + culture), but in 2018, India exported 57.48% of its total shrimp production (Table 1). In fact, the Blue Revolution 2.0 has been doing more damage to the nation’s food security than securing it, especially in the last decade, but this is consciously disregarded while celebrating its heroic contributions to the export economy under the guise of food security. The pressing global discourse on blue growth (FAO 2016, 2018) and the shifting focus to mariculture in the current scenario of ramping up of production for exports have the potential for the enchanted fish farmers to expand and conquer further into the traditional fishing grounds of the artisanal fishers in the seas. This can lead to what is now being increasingly studied as “Ocean Grabbing” (Barbesgaard 2018; Bennett et al 2015) policies or initiatives that dispossess small-scale fishers of their coastal commons (Immanuel and Narayanan 2022) and undermine their historical access to the seas. Tracing the history of aquaculture, it is clear that the powerful nexus between the state, research institutions, and multilateral agencies was key in promoting the unsustainable intensification of the shrimp aquaculture industry, but the existing regulations have vilified the individual farmers who came much later into the scene in the 1990s. The paper through its analysis shifts the liability to the multilateral consultancies and technical research institutions that were arbitrated by the postcolonial developmental state with the help of international aid. This nurturing of the industry for increasing the shrimp exports in the first 40 years post-independence enabled the environmentally destructive intensification of the shrimp farms post the structural reforms in the 1990s.

But should we avoid aquaculture or mariculture completely? With pressures from climate change and increasing sea levels, can aquaculture be considered as an alternate or diversification of livelihood option for small-scale fishers? Can aquaculture be (re)imagined and done differently? Can the artisanal fishers be included in aquaculture instead of enticing entrepreneurs and traders from the hinterlands for profits? Can aquaculture account for maintaining healthy local food diversity rather than plantations of “pink gold”? The paper calls for the defenders of the Blue Revolution 2.0 to reimagine the challenges involved in performing blue growth and blue revolution and shift their attention towards inclusive, bottom-up approaches that centre the demands of the small-scale fishers, their livelihoods, seafood diversity, and the nation’s food security even as its different actors conceive its next phase (Blue Revolution 3.0: Mariculture) in the oceans.

Notes

1 This is 23% of the global total export volume.

2 More specifically, the Penaeus monodon shrimp farmer in its first wave and Litopenaeus vannamei shrimp farmer in its second.

3 Interview with Arivazhagan, native to Koothan­kuli, an artisanal fishing village in Tuticorin district, Tamil Nadu on 6 February 2019.

4 Coined after the discovery of pink shrimp Penaeus duorum off the coast of Florida in the Gulf of Mexico in 1949.

5 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is an international agreement that establishes a legal framework for all marine and maritime activities. The convention resulted from the UNCLOS III conference held between 1973 and 1982 that placed limits on the national claims to territorial waters for the ratifying nation states.

6 Hatcheries help induce artificial spawning of shrimps from broodstock under controlled conditions. This relieves the demand for the shrimp seeds from the local estuaries.

7 Broodstock are healthy mature female shrimps that are used in hatcheries to artificially produce shrimp seeds.

8 As portrayed in every single policy document.

9 Export Value 2019–20 = `46,662.85 crore.

10 This was the case in one of the study villages, Perunthottam, Nagaipatinam district of Tamil Nadu where field work was conducted as part of the larger study.

11 By-catches are unintended catches, also called as “trash fishes.” They are usually small fishes that cannot be consumed as food for human consumption and are caught accidentally while fishing for commercial varieties like shrimp and tuna. Though they are called “trash,” they form an important part of the food cycle of other species in the ocean.

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Updated On : 11th Jun, 2022
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