Finding fortune: scope for ornamental fish trade in Sundarban
The high demand for ornamental fish for fishkeeping has made them an important component of the global fish trade. Despite India’s high diversity of freshwater indigenous ornamental fish species, it currently contributes a meagre percentage to this market. Sundarban Biosphere Reserve in West Bengal, with its abundant waterbodies and rich fish diversity, has great potential to support India in being a leading competitor in the national and international fish trade in the near future. The judicious utilization of fish resources is necessary and sufficient to generate a sustainable alternative livelihood option for the local communities in Sundarban.
The sleeping giant in ornamental fish trade
The rising popularity of fishkeeping as a hobby has increased the demand for ornamental fish worldwide, making them an important component of the global fish trade. Ninety per cent of the trade volume concentrates around tropical freshwater species, the majority of which is constituted by diverse wild-caught species. The wild collection of these species for the trade has become an arguable issue: though ornamental fish trade could be an important contributor to local economies, the unmanaged wild collection can reduce the sustainability of the trade and lead to population decline of important fish species.
Despite being one among the top ten mega-diverse countries of the world in terms of fish diversity, India contributes less than 1% to the multi-billion-dollar global ornamental fish trade. With its enormous and diverse fish resources, India has immense scope to emerge as a potential candidate and strong competitor in this trade in the near future.
India’s richest potential supporter
In India, West Bengal has the highest diversity of fish resources of which some indigenous varieties are popular in markets as ornamental fishes. The Sundarban Biosphere Reserve in West Bengal has vast aquatic resources with 84 indigenous ornamental fish species. With 44 of these species having entered the domestic ornamental fish market, Sundarban has a great potential for gainfully utilizing its resources in the local and global trade.
Most of the livelihood options of the largely impoverished and vulnerable local communities in Sundarban — agriculture, fisheries, and collection of forest produce — are exposed to human-wildlife interactions, employ inefficient methods, and hamper the natural continuity of the ecosystem. Till date, ornamental fish trade involving indigenous fish species more or less depends on capture and backyard-pond based fishery, without incurring any additional costs. In this backdrop, ornamental fish trade can be promoted as a profitable business that empowers the local communities and supplements their traditional livelihood options.
Conservation at the core of the trade
The sustainability of the trade, however, depends on the sustainability of the fragile Sundarban ecosystem and the conservation of its biodiversity. Unsustainable fishing practices and excessive wild collection of freshwater fish without concern for their populations and habitats have led to the population decline of certain important local fish species and the general decline of biodiversity. Therefore, judicious utilization of fish resources needs to be encouraged to ensure the sustainable growth of ornamental fish trade in this heritage site.
► Quantitative and qualitative assessment of biodiversity and accurate identification of exploited taxa and the causes for their decline need to be carried out in Sundarban.
► Proper institutional arrangements for scaling up of large-scale culture, the establishment of ornamental fish hatcheries, extensive awareness and demonstration programs, support to women in commercially backward areas for taking up backyard ornamental fisheries activities, and marketing chain development should be recommended in the area.
Gupta, S., S.K. Dubey, R.K. Trivedi, B.K. Chand & S. Banerjee (2016). Indigenous ornamental freshwater ichthyofauna of the Sundarban Biosphere Reserve, India: status and prospects. Journal of Threatened Taxa 8(9): 9144–9154; https://doi.org/10.11609/jott.18126.96.36.19944-9154