It is a delicacy in Kerala and a much sought-after dish at Malayalee restaurants in Chennai and other cities.
Karimeen, fried or curried, in hotels everywhere will be proclaimed that they came straight from the backwaters of the God’s Own Country.
If the varieties of Karimeen preparations leave foodies drooling in the mouth, the profile of this colourful fish — Pearlspot — is no less fascinating. Said to be a highly evolved fish, the Karimeen is famous for its parental care that few other fish species can match. Known as Etroplus suratensis (Bloch), the fish lives both in freshwater and brackishwater and is endemic to Peninsular India, mostly in Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. But they are present in coastal waters extending from Gujarat in the West and Chilika Lake in Odissa and West Bengal in the east.
The Central Institute of Brackishwater Aquaculture (CIBA) has achieved many milestones in breeding this fish in captivity and will soon launch training programmes for farmers and fishermen.
“There is a growing demand for the fish but we are not into commercial production. However we are ready to impart the techniques of breeding the fish,” said M. Natarajan, Principal Scientist of the CIBA and an expert in Karimeen breeding.
At the CIBA’s breeding centre at Muttukadu, the scientists have developed a simple and effective facility for consistent and year-round seed production in cement and Fibreglass Reinforced Plastic (FRP) tanks.
“On average, 700 to 1200 fry can be harvested from each parent pair” said Dr. Natarajan. The seed is supplied to farmers and Women Self Help Groups (SHGs) for small scale farming.
“We normally keep six females and four males in a tank for breeding and at 20 days or monthly intervals the tanks are drained to collect the fry. These juvenile fish can be transferred to ponds and reared. It is suitable for polyculture and very amenable for cohabiting with other species,” he said.
“As it is the case with any species known for parental care, the fecundity of Karimeen is low and it limits availability of large number of seed for stocking. But the parental care ensure that 90 per cent of the eggs are hatched and the survival rate of the larvae is also very high,” said Dr. Natarajan.
The fish has the potential to attain more than 30 cm and gain a weight of over 1 kg. However, the marketable size of Karimeen is around 100 to 150 grams and they fetch a good price of Rs. 200 to 300 per kg. “The attractively coloured juveniles are also sold in the market as ornamental fish,” he said.