Aquaculture is fairly a new activity in Nepal. It began in the 1940s with pond culture of Indian major carps. Over the years, carp polyculture in ponds has developed as the most viable and popular aquaculture production system in Nepal and in 2003/2004 accounted for over 90 percent of total aquaculture production. The major part of the pond fish production takes place in the southern part of the country – the Terai plain – where 94 percent of the fish ponds are located. Cage fish culture and enclosure fish culture in lakes and reservoirs as well as rice-fish culture are popular production systems, but expansion has so far been limited. Fish culture in gholes – marginal irrigated agriculture land, swamps and ditches – is a recent intervention in Nepal and has been quite encouraging as a poverty focused and livelihood improving activity for the rural targeted community. It should be properly assessed and expanded as a sustainable activity in the country. The potential for the commercial production of cold-water exotic species – rainbow trout – and the market potential for the aquarium decoration industry are encouraging areas for the sub-sector to contribute to the economic development of the country.
During 2003/2004 the fisheries sector, including aquaculture and capture fisheries, produced a total of 39 947 tonnes of aquatic products and contributed to over 2 percent of gross domestic production in the Agriculture sector in Nepal. Per capita fish production in Nepal for 2003/2004 reached 1.6 kg/year. It has been estimated that during 2003/2004 fisheries and aquaculture development activities in Nepal employed about 504 000 people and benefited 741 000 (over 3 percent of the population). A preliminary analysis of employment and income generation has shown that people employed in aquaculture have higher income potential compared to people employed in other agricultural sectors. The current fisheries development policy objectives include: increased production through intensified, commercialized and diversified operations, appropriate management and conservation of indigenous fish species, and an improved marketing network for fresh fish by using appropriate post-harvest techniques. Aquaculture development has followed an encouraging path in Nepal. However, issues such as production systems and technologies, target group, input supply, extension support services, credit service, legal issues, environmental considerations, marketing service, institutional framework need to be properly addressed in order to achieve long-term sustainable goals.
Aquaculture has a relatively short history in Nepal. It was initiated in the mid 1940s on a small scale in ponds with indigenous Indian major carp seed from India. Further development began in the 1950s with the introduction of the exotic species common carp (Cyprinus carpio ). Its breeding success in the 1960s followed monoculture practices and gained considerable popularity in the private sector. More significant progress was seen in the 1970s with the introduction and farming of three exotic Chinese carp species: silver carp (Hypophthalmichthys molitrix ), bighead carp (Aristichthys nobilis ) and grass carp (Ctenopharyngodon idellus ). Their breeding success in captivity has been a major breakthrough in the development of aquaculture in Nepal. Similarly, the induced breeding of three commercially valuable indigenous major carps: rohu (Labeo rohita ), mrigal (Cirrhinus mrigala ) and catla (Catla catla ) were successfully established in the country. This success followed the polyculture system of production in ponds with seven species of fish with different feeding habits. This practice contributed considerably to increased production per unit area and higher economic benefits, which in turn attracted a large number of farmers. The actual development of this practice was seen from the beginning of the 1980s with the execution of the Aquaculture Development Project supported by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Over the years, pond aquaculture has developed as the most viable and popular aquaculture production system in Nepal and accounted for over 90 percent of the total production of 20 000 tonnes in 2003/2004. The major part of the pond fish production takes place in the southern part of the country, the Terai plain where 94 percent of the fish ponds are located.
Cage fish culture in lakes and reservoirs with herbivorous carps (major species: silver carp and bighead carp) was initiated with the support of FAO/UNDP and later the International Development Research Center (IDRC) Canada in the 1970s. The system has been quite successful in terms of utilizing natural productivity in fish production. However, studies are being undertaken to examine the viability of intensive culture of common carp and rainbow trout with supplementary feeding in cages. Carp polyculture in lake enclosures has been developed as a popular aquaculture activity. It has further underlined the potential role of lakes for increasing fish production. During 2003/2004 cage fish culture provided 204 tonnes of fish from 32 000 m3 of cages, with an average yield of about 6 kg/m3 of cage. The production from fish culture in lake enclosures during 2003/2004 reached 130 tonnes from an area covering 100 ha.
Rice-fish culture in the hills and valleys was introduced in the 1960s in Nepal. In spite of its potential, this practice has not taken off. In 2002/2003 this practice yielded 87 tonnes from an area covering 218 ha. With the application of improved management techniques and careful planning, this could be expanded significantly in the future.
Fish culture in the marginal agricultural land along irrigated areas, ditches, flood plains, swamps etc. has recently been developed to utilize these areas through increased participation of rural targeted communities in managing the resource for production. An extensive system of carp polyculture practice has been adopted in these areas. Fish production activities in such areas provide livelihood opportunities to the local communities and help improve the quality of the water bodies. There are about 12 500 ha of such areas available in the country, of which approximately 1 225 ha are currently being used for fish culture.
The culture of high-value cold water species, in particular rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss ), has been an on-going activity for some years. Its technical feasibility has been proven, but production has not yet been introduced on a commercial scale.
According to a country profile of Nepal, (Directorate of Fisheries Development, 2004) it was estimated that during 2003/2004 approximately 136 000 families were engaged in aquaculture, fisheries and associated activities, with about 504 000 individuals actively involved in the sector. It has been estimated that in 2003/2004 aquaculture activities employed about 58 000 people and benefited about 104 000 people. At the same time, capture fisheries production in 2003/2004 employed about 425 000 people and benefited over 741 000 individuals in the country. A preliminary analysis of employment and income generation between the two production activities revealed fewer employed in aquaculture, but with higher income potential.
In 2003/2004 this sector also employed an estimated number of 9 000 families, with about 21 000 individuals actively involved in associated activities such as seasonal workers (e.g., fish harvesting, processing, earthwork,) and support services (e.g., marketing, storage, transportation, research, education, public sector institutions). The involvement of community-based organizations and non-governmental organizations in legal matters, capacity building, support services and delivery in the sector is an increasing trend and has to be assessed accordingly.
The number of females involved in aquaculture and associated activities has been estimated to be less than half. Their involvement in capture fisheries has been estimated to be about 60 percent. A preliminary analysis of those who benefit from this sector has revealed that it is about 3 percent of the total population.
Nepal is a land-locked country. Its fish production is totally dependent on inland water resources. The country is divided into three geographical regions: a high altitude mountain region along the northern belt with colder climatic conditions; a central hilly region with moderate climatic conditions; a low altitude Terai-plain along the southern belt with warmer climatic conditions.
Carp polyculture in ponds is by far the most common and viable aquaculture production system adopted in Nepal and in 2003/2004 made up about 90 percent of the total production of 18 060 tonnes. The major part of the pond fish production takes place in the southern part of the country – the Terai plain – where 94 percent of the fish ponds are located. These ponds cover over 97 percent of the water surface area and account for over 98 percent of the total pond fish production in the country. Data compiled for 2003/2004 showed an average pond fish yield of 3.00 tonnes/ha in Terai plain, which exceeded the national average of 2.96 tonnes/ha and is twice the average yield in the hills and mountains. The key to the growing popularity of the system in Terai is the warmer climatic conditions which are conducive to higher fish growth.
Cage fish culture with herbivorous carps has been confined to lakes of the Pokhara valley in the western hills and the Indrasarober reservoir in the central hills of the country. The system is very popular amongst rural communities. In 2003/2004 this practice covered about 34 000 m3 of cages with an average yield of about 6 kg/m3 of cage. Carp polyculture in enclosures is practiced only in the lakes of Pokhara valley where it is a popular aquaculture activity. It has further emphasized the potential role of lakes for increasing fish production.
Rice-fish culture is one of the earlier initiatives in Nepal and one which has potential. It is mostly practiced in the hills and valleys. It has more recently also started to become popular in the Terai. In 2003/2004 it covered an area of 218 ha. With improved management and careful planning, the practice could be expanded significantly in future.
Fish culture in gholes (marginal agricultural land along irrigated areas, ditches, flood plains and swamps) has been developed for improving the livelihood of rural targeted communities. Fish production activities in such areas also help to promote the ecology of the water bodies. This practice has been mostly concentrated in the Terai. There are about 12 500 ha of gholes available in the country, of which about 1 215 ha have been utilized for fish culture in 2003/2004.
The corridors in the hills and mountains are potential locations for the culture of high-value cold water species such as rainbow trout (Onchorhynchus mykiss ). Its technical feasibility has been proven, but the practice has not yet been introduced on a commercial scale.
There are 182 species of fish in Nepal (Shrestha, 2001). It has been reported that a total of 185 fish species are found in various water bodies in Nepal (Shrestha, 1995). They inhabit altitudes ranging from a few hundred metres above sea level to as high as 4 000 metres. Three indigenous major carps (rohu - Labeo rohita , catla - Catla catla and mrigal - Cirrhinus mrigala ) are already included in the country's aquaculture production systems. Studies are also currently being carried out into the commercial production of three high-value indigenous cold water fish species: asala (Schizothorax spp.), katle (Acrossochielus spp.) and mahseer (Tor spp.) which are popular delicacies. Mahseer is also popular for sports fishing. In addition to these indigenous fish species, exotic species such as rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss ), common carp (Cyprinus carpio ), and three species of Chinese carps (grass carp - Ctenopharyngodon idellus , silver carp - Hypophthalmicthys molitrix and bighead carp - Aristichthys nobilis ) of commercial value have over the years been introduced into the country for production. Recently, Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus ), Java barb (Barbonymus gonionotus ) and giant river prawn (Machrobrachium rosenbergii ) have been introduced with the assistance of neighbouring countries in order to study the viability of their commercial production in Nepal.
The integrated aquaculture system combining polyculture of carp in ponds with livestock (pigs, ducks etc) and horticulture (bananas) was introduced several years ago in order to utilize optimum levels of pond productivity and waste utilization for increased production. The technique has not been successfully expanded on a larger scale due to management complexities.
The intensive culture of the high value cold-water fish rainbow trout in raceways has been an ongoing activity for some years. The system has not been expanded on a commercial scale. Ranching and open stocking of economically important cyprinids has been initiated in some of the snow fed rivers in the country, but the viability of this has not been yet assessed with a view to further expansion.
The aquaculture production programme in Nepal began in 1981/82 with the execution of the Aquaculture Development Project supported by the Asian Development Bank and the United Nations Development Programme. In 1981/1982 aquaculture production was estimated to be 750 tonnes. It reached 8 317 tonnes in 1992/93. This increase in production of over 11 times within 11 years of the project period was the remarkable accomplishment of the growth of the industry in the country. Aquaculture production continued to increase significantly by the end of the project and reached 20 000 tonnes in 2003/2004 (MOAC, 2004), From the overall development of aquaculture production trends, pond fish culture was developed into the major production system and in 2003/2004 accounted for over 90 percent of production and area coverage in the country.
A compilation (FAO, 2005 and DOFD, 2005) indicated that in 2003/2004 silver carp accounted for the major share of (5 125 tonnes, 26 percent) of total aquaculture production of 20 000 tonnes. However its price was reported to be the lowest among other cultured species. The production share of silver carp was reported to be high in all production systems. Common carp is a popular fish after silver carp, and fetches a higher price than silver carp. The cyprinids – three indigenous major carps (L. rohita , C. mrigala and C. catla ) make up a significant share of the total aquaculture production in the country. These species are popular as a delicacy compared to other cultured exotic carps and accordingly fetch much higher prices.
The fish seed industry is one of the important production areas in the aquaculture sector. It has been estimated (DOFD, 2004) that a total of 8.22 million fish seed were produced in 2003/2004, of which 72 percent were provided by the private sector in the country.
A number of freshwater indigenous fish species of economic value – Schizothorax spp, Tor spp., and Neolissocheilus hexagonolepis . and others such as Anguilla spp., Puntius spp., etc from capture fisheries are popular as a delicacy and fetch much higher prices than any other cultured species in the country.
The graph below shows total aquaculture production in Nepal according to FAO statistics:
The concept of organized fish marketing was developed in 1981/1982 with the start of the Aquaculture Development Project. Support services and credit facilities have been extended to the entrepreneurs in the fish marketing business. The fish marketing system seems to have evolved and is self regulating with increasing production and demand.
The consumer in Nepal prefers fresh and healthy fish. Fish packed in ice and chilled fish are commonly acceptable to the consumer. Demand by the urban affluent consumer for processed fish and fishery products is gradually increasing.
Fish traders at all levels from producers to collectors/local middlemen to suppliers and wholesalers to retailers and vendors have developed and operate through organised marketing networks. There are two groups of fish traders involved in fish marketing in Nepal: those from India and those from Nepal. Compared to their Nepalese counterparts, the Indian traders are well established and organised in terms of manpower, resources and working capability. Fish imported from India and fish produced in Nepal is traded in the fish market in Nepal. The fish from India is more consistent in size and supply, whereas the fish from Nepal is superior in quality and freshness. These are some of the factors which determine the fish prices in the market. There is no organised database on imports and exports of fresh fish. The importance of this has been realised and it is being addressed accordingly. Imports of processed fish and fishery products from other countries in the urban affluent market have been documented in value terms. In 2003/2004 Nepalese Rupees 0.7 million worth of salmon, frozen fish and fish in brine were imported.
Fish marketing infrastructures have been developed in most cities in the Terai along with agriculture marketing networks. Kathmandu Kalimati wholesale market centre has developed a fish marketing infrastructure that includes chilled, refrigerated and icing facilities. These facilities are used by fish traders at all levels, including middlemen, wholesalers, retailers and vendors on a community and co-operative basis. This model has been successfully operated for several years and is being assessed with a view to wider application in other areas.
The system of labelling/certification of product safety of fish and fishery products has not yet been well developed. However, monitoring of this is done at random by the Municipality, Consumers' forum, Department of Food technology and Quality Control.
The value of fish as a supply of high quality protein has further emphasised its important role in the food security of the country. In 2003/2004 the value of total fish production (39 947 tonnes) was estimated at Nepalese Rupees 4 242 million (US$ 60 million) and contributed over 2 percent in Gross Domestic Production (GDP) – Agriculture.
A strategy to reduce poverty is the main guiding criterion in the execution of the 10th Five Year Plan in the country. So the fisheries sub-sector programme is also focussed on creating livelihood opportunities for the targeted rural population in order to promote poverty alleviation. Fish culture in gholes has been specifically developed to use these resources by involving rural targeted communities more so as to improve their livelihood and assist poverty alleviation. There are about 12 500 ha of such areas available in the country, of which 1 225 ha have been utilized in 2003/2004 and produced 1 519 tonnes of fish with an average yield of 1.24 tonnes/ha. During 2003/2004 the fish culture in gholes programme employed 8 167 individuals, comprising 4 900 male members and 3 267 female members of 4 083 families, and benefited 22 213 people. Cage fish culture and enclosure fish culture are also rural targeted community based programmes and contribute significantly to poverty alleviation. Programmes have recently been developed to involve small-scale rural targeted communities in fish seed nursing activities as additional livelihood opportunities.
Fisheries activities are split by policy guidelines into inland aquaculture and natural water fisheries. Aquaculture involves all activities where complete or partial control of the fish production cycle is undertaken. Natural water fisheries cover fish caught from natural water bodies where little or no control measures are taken over the fish production cycle (capture fisheries) (Pradhan and Pantha, 1995).
The fisheries development programme is one of the important commodity programmes of His Majesty's Government of Nepal, Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives. It is carried out through the Directorate of Fisheries Development of the Department of Agriculture under the Ministry. The Directorate of Fisheries Development is the commodity specific national focal body. It is responsible for central level policy issues, planning and programming, monitoring and supervision, etc. It also coordinates with national and international institutions with focus on research, marketing, credit, input supply, etc. The Directorate does its work through the following major institutional set up:
Other institutions involved in fisheries development activities and their major functions are:
A national policy strategy in Nepal is to involve community and cooperative organisations in the execution of aquaculture development programmes. This strategy has been adopted, particularly in executing programmes focused on rural communities and poverty alleviation, with encouraging results.
Overall fisheries activities in the country are primarily governed by policy strategy laid down by the government. The Directorate of Fisheries Development of the Department of Agriculture, His Majesty's Government of Nepal, as the focal institution, formulates and executes national fisheries and aquaculture development plans and programmes endorsed by the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives upon approval from the National Planning Commission of His Majesty's Government of Nepal.
Specific legislation on aquaculture production and development has not yet been formulated or enforced in the country. Entrepreneurs and the industry find this of utmost concern. Aquaculture production potential in the country and its market potential elsewhere in the context of the World Trade Organization (WTO) has further stressed the need for proper legislation and capacity building for the sustained growth of the sector.
The importance of and need for fisheries resource conservation was realised quite earlier in the country. The Aquatic Life Conservation Act 1961 – "JAL CHAR SANRAKSHAN AIN – 2017" had been adopted, but could not be executed for quite a time. In 1999 the Act was revised and amended (2055 BS). It included important aspects such as its scope and the definition of different terms specified in the Act. Other aspects included: restrictions on killing and capture methods, punishments, citizen's obligations, role and responsibility of local authority and technical authority, etc. concerning aquatic life and its conservation. However, the Act is not yet in operation, because laws and regulations are in the process of being approved by His Majesty's Government of Nepal.
The importance of research activities for aquaculture and fisheries was recognised in the early 1980s when a major expansion of aquaculture development activities took place in the country (Pradhan and Shrestha, 1997).
The Directorate of Fisheries Development, His Majesty's Government (HMG) Nepal, is the focal body for dealing with central level sectoral/commodity policy issues in Nepal. According to national policy the Nepal Agriculture Research Council (NARC) and autonomous public institution are mandated to conduct all agricultural research activities, including the fisheries sub-sector in collaboration with related public and private institutions as deemed necessary. The research work conducted through the NARC also includes research on the farmer's fields. Research findings are also verified in the public sector fisheries development centres, also called public sector resource centres. Results from the research go through a series of procedures involving private and public authorities and are disseminated for wider adoption.
Given the nature of the resources and their potential, the research activities are conducted under two categories: fisheries research and aquaculture research. Fisheries research includes more basic work on capture fisheries and resource conservation. Aquaculture research is more culture based, applied and the productivity related to aquaculture practices. The impact of fisheries research is usually only seen over a longer time, whereas that of aquaculture research can be seen over a relatively shorter time.
There is a number of fisheries research centres at different geographical locations under the Fisheries Research Division of NARC: Tarahara and Parwanipur focus on warm water aquaculture, Pokhara concentrates on lake and reservoir research, Trishuli on riverine species and Godawari on cold water fisheries research.
The importance of education and training in the fisheries sector was recognised during the 1980s when aquaculture development activities expanded remarkably in the country (Thapa and Pradhan, 1999). The establishment of a separate fisheries training component within the Department of Agriculture emphasised the importance of training and capacity building for the expansion and promotion of the sector. Fisheries training is given to farmers and entrepreneurs and to national and international level technical personnel at government fisheries training centres in the country. A data compilation (DOFD, 2004) reported that during 2003/2004 a total of six sets of training had been given to 103 technical personnel and 56 sets of training to 856 farmers/entrepreneurs. The Tribhuwan University, other universities and associated institutions also provide basic fisheries and aquaculture education to produce skilled and semi-skilled manpower for the promotion of this sub-sector in the country.
There are specific limitations on further expanding the cage fish culture and enclosure fish culture and popular production systems. Similarly, rice-fish culture as an early intervention could not develop due to cross technological and input management problems. Fish culture in gholes was developed as a popular livelihood improving system for the rural targeted community and poverty focused production system. The production estimate (DOFD, 2005) from this culture was reported to be 20 tonnes in 1992/1993, reached 1 254 tonnes in 2002/2003 and 1 519 tonnes in 2003/2004. This tremendous increase in production clearly indicates the significant usefulness and popularity of the system. It should be properly assessed for its encouraging role in poverty alleviation and expanded as a sustainable activity in the country.
Moreover, the feasibility of high value cold water executed species – rainbow trout – has encouraged its commercial production in the country.
The practice of open water stocking of hatchery seed has been significant in increasing fish production and improving the livelihood of the fisher communities. With the use of proper gear and improved management, fish production can be further increased in the country. Aquarium decoration is becoming a popular hobby among the urban community of Nepal. There may be market potential for its expansion in the country. The diverse nature of the Nepalese river systems provides potential sites for sports fishing for recreation and tourism. Mahseer is a famous native game fish of Nepal together with asala, katle, gonch, etc. Preliminary attempts have been already initiated for further expansion in this regard.
The current fisheries development policy objectives include: intensification of aquaculture for increased productivity by adopting commercialized and diversified operations, conservation of economically important indigenous fish species through improved management and enhancement of marketing of fresh fish by using appropriate post-harvest techniques and developing a competitive and organized marketing network. Aquaculture development has gone along an encouraging path in Nepal. However, there are issues which need to be properly addressed in order to achieve long-term sustainable goals. These issues include: production areas and target groups; technology interventions on production and productivity issues; water supply systems and management; fish seed supply and management; other production input supply and management; extension support services and delivery systems; training services and delivery; credit services and systems; socio-cultural consequences and legalities; legal consequences and environmental considerations; marketing services and systems; institutional framework and mechanism etc.
The environmental impact of pond aquaculture is primarily limited to the conversion of paddy fields into fish ponds. Environmental pollution due to spillover, nutrient leaching or chemicals is not reported and banned chemicals are not used. The production activity is not intensive and heavy manure, fertilizer and supplementary feed are not applied in ponds, so problems of sedimentation and water quality deterioration are not faced. However, organic waste from the locality during monsoons is dumped into the ponds. This may sometimes cause deterioration in the water quality which again is not serious. Flooding, silting, and drought are observed. The physical destruction of ponds, heavy silting and a decline in water level in ponds due to these environmental problems sometimes cause heavy product losses. Massive deforestation in the lake and reservoir catchment areas causes severe soil erosion and landslides during monsoons. The surface run-off water from these areas carries enormous amounts of silt and organic waste which drain into lakes and reservoirs. Problems with silting are particularly acute in Lakes Phewa and Rupa in the Pokhara valley and Kulekhani reservoir in Makwanpur. This may cause heavy production losses from cage/pen enclosure fish culture and open water stocking management activities undertaken in these water bodies.
DOFD . 2004 . Country Profile – Nepal 2002/2003 , Fisheries Sub-sector, Directorate of Fisheries Development (DOFD), Kathmandu, Nepal.
DOFD . 2005 . Country Profile – Nepal 2003/2004 , Fisheries Sub-sector, Directorate of Fisheries Development (DOFD), Kathmandu, Nepal.
Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives (MOAC) . 2004 . Statistical Information on Nepalese Agriculture 2003/2004 (2061/2062), His Majesty's Government, Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, Agri-Business Promotion and Statistics Division, Singha Durbar, Kathmandu, Nepal.
FAO . 2005 . Aquaculture production, 2004. Year book of Fishery Statistics - Vol.96/2. Food and Agriculture organization of the United Nations, Rome, Italy.
Pradhan, G.B.N. & Shrestha, S.B. 1997 . Status of Fisheries and Aquaculture Development and their Potential for Expansion in Nepal. In: Swar, D.B., Pradhan, G.B.N. & Lofvall, L.M. Westland (Eds.) 1997. Proceedings of the National Symposium on the Role of Fisheries and Aquaculture in the Economic Development Rural Nepal, 1996, 15-16 August. Kathmandu, NEFIS, Nepal.
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Shrestha, J. 1995 . Enumeration of the fishes of Nepal. Biodiversity Profiles Project. His Majesty's Government of Nepal/Government of Netherlands. Euroconsult, Arnhem, The Netherlands. 150 pp.
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Thapa, T.B. & Pradhan, G.B.N. 1999 . Status of Aquaculture and its Potential for Expansion under Long-term Perspective Plan in Nepal. In: Swar, D.B., Pradhan, G.B.N. & Bisgaard, J. (Eds.) 1999. Proceedings of the National Workshop on the prospect of Fisheries Development Under the Agriculture Perspective Plan, 1998, 4-5 November. Kathmandu, Inland Aquaculture and Fisheries Section, FDO, DOA, MOA, HMG Nepal.