This post is a summary of our learnings from the functioning of the Alliance for Responsible Aquaculture (ARA). It details the role of the ARA in the current aquaculture landscape and our work toward catalyzing fish welfare in India.
Vivek, our Fish Welfare Expert, with Alliance for Responsible Aquaculture farmers in Andhra Pradesh, India.
We announced the formation of the Alliance of Responsible Aquaculture (ARA) in June last year. Since then, this first-of-its-kind coalition of farmers, corporations, and NGOs has grown to include 74 aquaculture farms, 3 corporations, and 2 farmer producer organizations. Through the ARA, we have potentially improved more than 540,000 fish lives. Reviewing our progress in the last year, we’ve confirmed 3 things:
There is enormous scope for India to be kinder to the animals farmed in aquatic systems.
Improving fish welfare in aquaculture increases business resilience while reducing fish suffering.
Fish welfare aligns with India’s government initiatives to develop sustainable and responsible aquaculture practices.
In this post, we will explore the ARA’s positioning and scope with each of the points above.
ARA Functioning and the Scope of Fish Welfare in India
Aquaculture is a high-risk venture for most farmers in India. Aquafarms are highly subject to external factors such as weather conditions and calamities like floods, which often result in massive mortalities. With factors that can be controlled, farmers often lack the resources to do so.
Leading the ARA helped us discover:
Most farmers are unaware of the correct stocking densities that prevent overcrowding and enable the growth of healthy, more stress-free fish.
Low oxygen levels plague aquaculture farmers in India. Most lack the right equipment to maintain sufficient oxygen levels or face regular power shortages and high electricity rates.
Farmers rely on laboratories that take hours, sometimes days, to provide them with water quality readings.
Farmers often are not aware of best feed management practices, contributing to poor water quality.
These factors contribute to substantial losses for farmers and colossal fish suffering.
A producer prerequisite for joining the ARA is to stock fish at the correct densities. The 73 farms we work with stock no more than 3000 fish per acre. We are consistently working with ARA farms on maintaining high water quality. We do this by conducting fortnightly water tests and prescribing corrective actions when necessary.
Nikhil, our Research Associate, testing the water quality of an aquafarm in Andhra Pradesh, India.
The ARA Enables Better Care and Lower Mortality Rates for Farmed Fishes
Farmer Ajaneyulu engaged in conversation with FWI India’s Managing Director, Karthik Pulugurtha.
Stressors like poor water quality and high stocking densities subject fishes to immune system dysfunction, leaving them vulnerable to disease. In India, diseases in farmed freshwater fish lead to 10-15 % production loss due to mortality and low growth rate. Like acquiring water quality readings, disease treatment is sparse and time-consuming. More often than not, farmers resort to the use of drugs and chemicals to prevent disease.
We believe that maintaining optimum water quality parameters can reduce farmers’ costs incurred towards treating disease. Moreover, we are currently running tests to optimize feed management practices to assist water quality management. Through our work, ARA farmers are increasingly learning about the benefits of fish welfare improvements, including implementing welfare to mitigate disease. Enabling them to function with Aquaculture Best Practices carries great potential to improve billions of fish lives.
Disease prevention through welfare improvements, as opposed to the use of drugs and chemicals, benefits farmers, the environment, and public health.
Fish Welfare as a Vehicle for Sustainability
Untreated wastewater from aquaculture is toxic, degrades the environment, and can disrupt ecosystems. It also significantly contributes to algal blooms and ocean dead zones.
Fish welfare improvements prevent crowding and poor feeding systems, reducing the amount of feed suspended in water and minimizing harmful wastewater generation. These improvements also promote better feed conversion ratios while reducing aggression and stress in fish. Less stressed fish have better immune functions, decreasing the need for antimicrobials that would otherwise end up in the surrounding environment.
Indian policy initiatives like the Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana (PMMSY) clearly signal the need for aquaculture to develop sustainably and responsibly. Through the functioning of the ARA, we are regularly engaging government agencies with fish welfare as a vehicle for sustainable, reliable, and kinder aquaculture practices.
Fish welfare reduces harmful wastewater generation.
The Alliance for Responsible aquaculture is functioning with the promise of healthy fish and reduced mortalities, and the possibility of traceability. We're working to incentivize farmers, government entities, and non-government agencies with the benefits that implementing fish welfare offers. We are functioning with the firm belief that implementing fish welfare creates a win-win scenario for all of our stakeholders, including, and most importantly, fishes.