A new initiative of sustainable shrimp cultivation provides hope for mangrove restoration in Sundarbans. For several years, environmentalists and experts have expressed concerns over unsustainable aquaculture, particularly shrimp collection, after cleaning large tracts of mangrove forests in Sunderbans.
Under the initiative, Sustainable Aquaculture In Mangrove Ecosystem (SAIME), farmers have taken up cultivation of shrimp at 20 hectares at Chaital in West Bengal’s North 24 Parganas, and 10 hectares at Madhabpur in adjoining South 24 Parganas. However, they are doing their part in restoring the mangroves as well.
Dinobandhu Das, a shrimp farmer from Chaital who has two acres under cultivation, says, “Our previous generation has cleared mangrove forests and cultivated shrimps. Under this initiative, we are planting mangrove trees around the shrimp ponds.”
Farmers like Animesh Rai and Pintu Kumar Das from Chaital, also part of the initiative, point out that where they had to buy shrimp feed in the past, now the mangrove leaf litter provides nourishment for the crustaceans. “A research program on the contribution of mangrove leaf litter in the nutritional dynamics in SAIME ponds has been initiated in collaboration with the Centre for Excellence in Blue Economy (CoE-BE) of the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Kolkata,” a press statement by Nature Environment and Wildlife Society ( NEWS) said.
The community-based initiative of sustainable shrimp cultivation is being conceived by NEWS and Global Nature Fund (GNF), Naturland Bangladesh Environment and Development Society (BEDS).
Ajany Dey, Joint Secretary and Programme Director of NEWS, says that the initiative — started in 2019 — has established a collaborative ecosystem integrating several key stakeholders from government departments, academia, and research institutes for co-creation and comprehensive advancement of this project.
Shrimp cultivation is integrated into the mangrove ecosystem but when people extended the fisheries inwards, they excluded the mangroves, she explains. “What we are trying is to integrate the shrimp into the mangrove ecosystem. This pilot project has come out with a significant result in the last three years’ span, providing a per hectare average yield of fishes and shrimps amounting to 535 kg, out of which shrimp amounts average 275 kg (black tiger shrimp-200 kg and with freshwater giant prawn-75 kg),” she notes.
The environmental activist also adds that the rate of survival of planted mangrove saplings, which is usually 5-10%, has ranged between 30-50% in the initiative.
Fishing, particularly shrimp cultivation, is one of the key occupations of the people of Sundarbans, which is a complex network of rivers and low-lying islands that face a tide surge twice a day. Shrimp cultivation is practised in about 15,000 to 20,000 hectares of the unique ecosystem in India. The Sundarbans forest is about 10,000 sq. km across India and Bangladesh, of which 40% lies in India.
There are 42 shrimp farmers engaged in the pilot project and a majority of them say that they have had higher incomes compared to previous years. They are also cultivating indigenous varieties of shrimps such as black tiger shrimp (P. monodon) and giant freshwater prawn (M. rosenbergii ).