Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page



FAO Regional Fisheries Officer for Asia and the Far East
Bangkok, Thailand


Fish culture in Asia and the Far East is several thousand years old and the greatest developments have been in brackish-water culture for milkfish in Java and the Philippines and pond culture of various species of carps in China and India. The only significant recent introduction is of Tilapia mossambica, but methodology has been improved by the introduction of the technique of induced spawning in several of the more important carp species. Culture methods include the farming of brackish and fresh-water ponds' and the cultivation of fish in rice fields. The use of fertilizers and of supplementary feeds is not well developed except in certain cases where intensive culture is conducted. Until recently most of the stock used in fish culture came from wild-caught fry of the various species except for the common and golden carps which have been bred under culture conditions in most of the countries to which they have been introduced.

Governments throughout the region have encouraged fish culture as a source of badly needed animal protein. There is an important future for fish culture in the mainland areas of the region although this may be inhibited by the development of communications providing more readily available supplies of fish from marine sources. There exists throughout the region an immense potential for the development of brackish-water culture of fish and marine organisms.



En Asie et en Extrême-Orient la pisciculture qui est pratiquée depuis des millénaires a obtenu les résultats les plus remarquables dans l'élevage en eau saumâtre du Chanos à Java et aux Philippines et l'élevage en étang de diverses espèces de carpes en Chine et en Inde. La seule espèce importante d'introduction récente est le Tilapia mossambica, mais les méthodes ont été améliorées grâce à la technique de reproduction artificielle appliquée chez plusieurs des principales espèces de carpes. Les méthodes d'élevage comprennent l'exploitation des étangs d'eau saumâtre et d'eau douce et la pisciculture en rizière. L'utilisation d'engrais et d'aliments d'appoint n'est pas très répandue sauf dans certains cas où est pratiquée une pisciculture intensive. Jusqu'à une époque récente la plupart des sujets d'élevage provenaient de la capture d'alevins sauvages sauf dans le cas de la carpe commune et de la carpe dorée qui se reproduisent en captivité dans la plupart des pays où elles ont été introduites.

Dans toute la région, les gouvernements encouragent la pisciculture en tant que source de protéines animales dont la pénurie se fait cruellement sentir. Dans les zones situées à l'intérieur des terres, la pisciculture devrait connaître un grand essor à moins que celui-ci ne soit compromis par le développement de moyens de communication permettant d'assurer un ravitaillement plus facile en poisson de mer. Il y a, dans la région, d'énormes possibilités de développement de l'élevage des poissons et des organismes marins dans les eaux saumâtres.



La piscicultura en Asia y el Lejano Oriente cuenta con varios milenios de existencia, habiéndose producido los progresos más importantes en el cultivo del sabalote en aguas salobres en Java y las Filipinas, y en el cultivo en estanques de distintas especies de carpas en China y la India. La única introducción importante creciente es la Tilapia mossambica, pero la methodología se ha mejorado con la introducción de la técnica del desove provocado en varias de las especies de carpas más importantes. Los métodos de cría incluyen el cultivo en estanques de aguas dulces y salobres y el cultivo de peces en arrozales. El uso de fertilizantes y alimentación suplementaria no está bien desarrollado excepto en aquellos casos en que se realiza un cultivo intensivo. Hasta hace muy poco la mayoría de la población empleada en la piscicultura procedía de jaramugos capturados en estado silvestre, pertenecientes a distintas especies, excepto por lo que se refiere a las carpas doradas y comunes, criadas en condiciones de cultivo en la mayor parte de los países en que se introdujeron.

Los gobiernos de toda la región han fomentado la piscicultura como fuente de las proteínas de origen animal que se tanto se necesitan. La pisicicultura de las zonas continentales de la región cuenta con un futuro importante, aunque las perspectivas pueden verse limitadas por el hecho de que el desarrollo de las comunicaciones haga que se pueda contar con más suministros de pescado de fuentes marinas. En toda la región existe un inmenso potencial para el desarrollo del cultivo de peces y organismos marinos en aguas salobres.


During the past two decades, interest in the cultivation of edible fish under more or less controlled conditions has received considerable stimulus in Asia and the Far East. National fisheries development policies, keeping in mind the vulnerability of existing wild stocks of fish, particularly those in the fresh water, have emphasized the need for the application of existing knowledge and technique and the initiation of research to resolve local problems.

A major contribution to this problem is the “Handbook on Fish Culture in the Indo-Pacific Region” (FAO Fisheries Biology Technical Paper 11, 14, 1962). Based on a comprehensive manuscript prepared by (the late) Dr. Sundar Lal Hora and Dr. T. V. R. Pillay, the Handbook presents basic information concerning fish culture in the Region and is a standard source book on the subject.

During the past three years, under the aegis of the Indo-Pacific Fisheries Council, further interest in the culture of suitable fish species has been developed and valuable papers on the subject have been published in the Proceedings of this Council. A further recent contribution is IPFC Occasional Paper 66 - A Preliminary Bibliography on Inland Fisheries, compiled by Mrs. A. Soulier.


The region, Asia and the Far East, incorporates some seventeen countries between Japan to the north, Australia to the South and West Pakistan to the West. The countries concerned are as follows:

Hong KongPhilippines
IndonesiaTaiwan (Republic of China)


Fish culture was probably initiated in mainland China and in India several thousand years ago and in Japan shortly thereafter; in this sense it may be regarded as indigenous to these countries but its development in virtually all the other countries came much later in the Christian Era. Probably the first major development was the establishment of the tambak system for brackish-water fish culture in Java, between 1200 and 1400 B.C. under the influence of the Hindu empire.

In the Philippines, brackish-water culture also developed several hundred years ago and the movement of Chinese traders and the establishment of trading posts was probably responsible for the introduction of carp culture into many of the countries of the region. Within the tropical zone, the abundance of natural supplies of fish rendered fish culture unnecessary and it is only within the last century and in some cases within the last 20 to 30 years that serious attention to the artificial cultivation of fish in controlled ponds has developed in such countries as Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Pakistan. The collection of wild-spawned carp fry of the group of fishes known as the Indian major carps (Catla catla, Labeo rohita, L. calbasu and Cirrhina mrigala) is probably as ancient historically as the Japanese development of the industry. Only within the past few years has there been interest in the development of pond culture in such countries as Cambodia, Vietnam, Burma, and Ceylon.


The most important stimulus to fish culture development in South East Asia during the past 20 years was the introduction of the exotic species Tilapia mossambica. The readiness with which this fish responded to artificial cultivation and the easiness with which it could be bred and fed, created a furore throughout the region.

Unhappily the extreme fecundity of the species and the fact that it breeds continuously throughout the year have created their own problems and over the past few years the interest in this species has declined. Only in rare cases has any serious attempt been made to apply adequate management techniques to the pond culture of Tilapia.

Considerable success in mono-sex-culture of this species was obtained in Sabah and experimental studies at the Tropical Fish Culture Research Institute, Malacca, have produced hybrids which seem to offer high potential for cultural activities. The crossing of Tilapia mossambica and a different species derived from South East Africa results in the production of 100 percent male offspring. These fish have considerable hybrid-vigour and, if segregated, show an excellent growth rate. This hybrid is not as yet widely cultivated.

Almost concurrent with the development of the Tilapia hybrid was the introduction into this region of the techniques of induced spawning by injection into the muscle or body cavity of extracts prepared from the pituitary gland of other fish. Initiated in the early 1920s in America this technique has been successfully utilized during the past decade in Taiwan, at Cuttack in Orissa State and other states of India, and in Japan.

In Taiwan, the technique has been used to induce spawning in the major Chinese carps, particularly the grass carp (Ctenopharyngodon idella), silver carp (Hypophthalmichthys molitrix), bighead (Aristichthys nobilis), and mud carp (Cirrhina molitorella), traditionally cultivated species of which for many years the only source of supply was Canton to which the fry collected from the Pearl River were brought and thence exported.

In India, the induced spawning technique has been utilized with very great success on the Indian major carps, mrigal (Cirrhina mrigala), rohu (Labeo rohita), catla (Catla catla), and calbasu (L. calbasu). Several generations of this fish have now been produced by this technique and there is no evidence of deterioration of the stocks. In India also hybrids between the major carps have been produced and the work in this direction is continuing. At Cuttack, the Chinese grass carp and silver carp have responded satisfactorily to induced spawning technique.

The development of a technique of transporting fry and fingerlings in closed containers with an atmosphere of pure oxygen has been a major step forward. These containers are made of either metal or, more frequently nowadays, of plastic bags. The number of fish transported per gallon of water has been increased manifold.

In Japan considerable attention has been paid to the production of Salmonoid hybrids showing hybrid vigour and increased growth rate; this work is continuing.


Methods of pond culture of fishes vary considerably throughout the region. The brackish-water fisheries for milk fish (Chanos chanos) in Indonesia, Philippines and Taiwan, are major commercial operations not infrequently with well established government research services closely linked to them.

The cultivation of the carps including the common carp, Chinese carps and Indian major carps is essentially a commercial operation although small family ponds are not uncommon.

The rice field culture of several species is proving successful in many areas most particularly in Indonesia where an elaborate system of breeding, rearing and growing for sale has been developed and is an intrinsic part of the otherwise almost wholly rice dominated farming practices.1

Attempts in the culture of fish in rice fields in Thailand, the Philippines, Burma and Vietnam have not always been successful, largely due to lack of adequate governmental extension services to transmit the knowledge of the techniques and practices to the farmers themselves. Several species are used for cultivation in rice fields, most particularly the common carp (Cyprinus carpio), the tawes (Puntius javanicus), and in some areas the pla salid (Trichogaster pectoralis), this latter species more particularly in Malaysia and Thailand while the tawes is popular in Java and Malaysia.

Only rarely are organic fertilizers added to the ponds; one outstanding exception being Taiwan where the preparation of the milkfish ponds is a matter of very precise technique. The addition of animal manures and compost to fish ponds is fairly wide spread, but the quantity of fertilizers added tends to fluctuate markedly on the basis of availability.

1 Proc.Indo-Pacif.Fish.Coun., 7(3): Symposium on Fish Culture in Rice Fields (1958).


In the vast majority of cases, little is given in the way of supplementary food to the fish in the ponds. In brackish-water ponds, additional fertilizer ensures adequate growth of the algae upon which the milkfish and mullet feed. Only in the case of the culture of the Chinese carps is a routine feeding system well established.

In this instance the food given consists of soft vegetation and grasses which are cut from the area surrounding the pond or from other open land. In certain areas where common carp are cultured under intensive conditions, food such as soybean meal, rice bran and similar agricultural products may be given.

In almost all cases the food stuffs used are locally available at little or no cost and certainly in the tropical part of the region, the development of routine feeding systems has been inhibited by the necessity to keep the cost of production of the fish to a minimum in order to permit the cultivator's produce to compete in the market with the wild-caught supplies.


Reference has been made above under “Methods of Culture” to this question. In almost all countries in the region the cost of inorganic fertilizer has been virtually prohibitive and only in such cases where the cultivated product is assured of a high market price, can inorganic fertilizers be used economically.

Moreover, in the tropical areas with a 12 months' growing season and a rapid nutrient turn over, there is little advantage to be gained under the current cost structure by the application of inorganic fertilizers.

As noted above, composting and additional animal manuring are undertaken fairly widely and these involve no cash cost to the pond culturists since the material used are normally waste products of the farm community.


Throughout the region and with the outstanding exceptions of common carp, golden carp and tilapia, the greatest proportion of cultivated fishes are obtained from natural waters. These include, the eels (Anguilla japonica) in Japan and Taiwan, which are collected as elvers ascending the stream, the milkfish all of which are taken as early fry along the sandy beaches joining river mouths, the major Chinese carps, major Indian carps, grey mullets and catfish of the genus Pangasius.

Following and latterly in part causing the diminution in export of major Chinese carp from Canton via Hong Kong, intensive efforts to induce the spawning of these species by pituitary injection have resulted in large commercial quantities of these fish being produced particularly in Japan and Taiwan and to a less extent in India. In India, the supply of Indian major carps taken from natural spawning grounds is still of very great importance, but over the past five years the development, initially at Cuttack and later in other government stations, of the successful application of pituitary injection technique has produced quantities of fish approaching the natural supply and there has been a marked stimulus in pond culture in these species.

The common carp and golden carp (Carassius carassius), are introductions into the warmer parts of the region and production of fry is wholly a culture operation. In many cases, the cultivators produce their own fry and raise them to commercial sizes. In some countries government hatcheries provide initial stock for cultural operations and these may be given free but more frequently the cultivators purchase the fry or fingerlings from the hatcheries. In Indonesia, a highly complex system of breeding and rearing has been developed and extends through the vast area of the rice cultivated lands particularly in Java.

There is a small import and export trade in milkfish fry but this has never developed to significant proportions, essentially because most of the countries from where the fry can be obtained do not have supplies adequate even for their own requirements.

As indicated above, the import/export trade in the major Chinese carps has declined steadily over some years and what was once the original and sole source of supply of this species is becoming less and less important in the industry. It is probable that in all the countries in which fish culture is developing, supplies of young stock are still inadequate to meet the demand.

To-date efforts to develop improved and selected strains of fish have had no significant impact on the industry. Nevertheless this aspect of fish husbandry has not been overlooked, but its development has, to some extent, been retarded by the fact that the hatchery operations are as yet not sufficiently large to meet local demands and there is a marked shortage within the region of scientists adequately trained for this highly specialized operation.


In all the countries of the region, except Australia, the governmental approach to fish culture is strongly positive and within the limits of the available facilities, funds and personnel, greater or less extensive programs have been initiated. Except in the more highly developed countries in the region, research institutions are lacking, but all countries have a system of experiment stations and government fish farms designed to develop this phase of the fishing industry.

Connected with this activity, extension services are being developed but only in a few instances, have these achieved the degree of efficiency necessary for the active development of fish culture.

In this comparatively early phase of development of fish husbandry, excepting of course the culture of milkfish which has grown along ancient and traditional line, government control of operations is negligible and the legal aspects of government participation are still in most cases somewhat nebulous where they exist at all. The industry is essentially in embryonic form and much more experience and development will be necessary before precise legislation and official government control can be imposed.

The operation of cooperatives in this aspect of the industry has not been successful. In the majority of cases, the cooperative system has been imposed from above, has been sold to the people on the basis of subsidies and concession and has not arisen, as it should, directly from the felt needs of the operatives.


There appears little doubt that there is an important future for fish culture in the mainland areas of the region. The development of the industry will depend to no small extent on the development of roads and communications and upon the extent to which the marine fisheries could expand. Modern marine fishing techniques, capable of producing fish at prices highly competitive with culture operations, will and at least in certain areas already are tending to discourage fish culture in inland waters.

The future for inland fish culture probably rests essentially in one of two developments; in the first place there is scope for further expansion at the subsistence level where the peasants can construct and operate fish ponds on agriculturally marginal land, not necessarily for profit but to provide in part the protein essential in the diet of himself and his family. It is unlikely that such operations will produce a cash crop but nevertheless they can have a strong impact on the nutrition of the people.

The other probable line of activity in inland waters will be the development of commercial operations in fairly extensive bodies of water and with intensive cultural practices employed.

There exists throughout the region an immense potential for the development of brackish-water culture of fish and other aquatic products and except in the case of milkfish there has been virtually no attempt to cultivate many of the endemic fishes, molluscs and crustaceans in coastal waters. The development of cockle culture in Malaysia is an interesting exception.

Perhaps the most important factor retarding the development of aquiculture has been the mental approach of the people themselves. Only comparatively recently has it been shown that there are major deficiencies in the protein supplies in almost all the countries in the region. The approach of the individual to this problem has not as yet changed in conformity with the changing conditions induced by the rapid growth of population.

Traditionally there has been enough food to harvest in the waters both inland and coastal and the concept of cultivation of these traditionally available items is entering into the thinking of the indigenous people, but slowly.

In assessing the problems and prospects of fish husbandry, the approach must at present be essentially a qualitative one. In virtually all the countries of the region, statistical services which would permit an accurate quantitative survey of the situation do not exist and such figures as are from time to time compiled, do, in the opinion of the writer, little more than create false impressions. Rarely are the compilations related to facts. It is possible that some may be reasonable estimates but it is probably extremely rare that the figures compiled can be substantiated by subsequent checks.

From time to time, articles and papers have been published, giving data relating to specific instances, places and times but it would be dangerous in the extreme to extrapolate from these to cover larger cases, times and areas.


Anquilla japonicaJapan, Taiwan
Chanos chanosBurma, Ceylon, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam
Tilapia melanopleuraMalaysia, Thailand
T. mossambicaThroughout the region (except Cambodia)
Aristichthys noblisHong Kong, India, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand
Carassius auratusIndonesia, Japan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam
C. carassiusIndia, Indonesia, Taiwan, Japan
Catla catlaBurma, India, Malaysia
Cirrhina mrigalaBurma, India, Malaysia, Pakistan
Cirrhina molitorellaJapan, Hong Kong, Taiwan
C. cirrhosaIndia
Ctenopharyngodon idellaBurma, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam
Cyprinus carpioThroughout the region.
Hypophthalmichthys molitrixBurma, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand
Labeo rohitaBurma, India, Malaysia, Pakistan
L. calbasuBurma, India, Pakistan
Osteochilus hasseltiiIndonesia, Malaysia, Thailand
Puntius gonionotus (javanicus)Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand
P. schwanenfeldiiIndonesia, Malaysia
Oxyeleotris marmoratusMalaysia, Vietnam
Helostoma temminckiCeylon, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand
Osphronemus gouramyCeylon, Indonesia, India, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam
Trichogaster pectoralisBurma, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand
Mugil cephalusIndia, Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan
M. tadeIndia, Pakistan
M. corsulaIndia
M. dussumieriIndia, Indonesia, Pakistan
Pangasius larnaudiiThailand, Vietnam
P. macronemusVietnam
P. pangasiusThailand
P. sanitwongsiVietnam
P. sutchiThailand, Vietnam
Etroplus suratensisIndia, Ceylon

Various other species are from time to time reared in ponds, none however in any significant quantities and in many cases, particularly when wild-caught fry are stocked in ponds, undesirable species, e.g. predators, may be found.


The conclusions which may be derived from an attempted review of fish culture in the countries of South East Asia are simple. First, there is ample scope for development of culture practices in both fresh and brackish waters, both at the intensive cultivation level and in the efficient management of waters impounded primarily for other purposes. Secondly, there is great scope for development of governmental activity in the field, provided such activity is closely integrated with other policies and programs for protein production. Thirdly, there is an urgent need throughout the region for skilled personnel at all levels but particularly in the development of efficient and active extension services. Fourthly, basic research is necessary in certain areas of this subject, particularly in standardizing breeding techniques and in the evolution and establishment of improved species hybrids or strains of fish suitable for cultivation. New techniques of culture of both vertebrate and invertebrate fauna of the brackish and coastal waters need to be developed, but probably the most important outstanding requirement is the active application in almost all cases of existing knowledge.

Previous Page Top of Page Next Page