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D.M. Peters and C. Feustel
Indo-German Reservoir Fisheries Development Project
Freshwater Biological Research Station, Malampuzha, Palakkad 678651, Kerala, India


Reservoir culture-based capture fisheries have a relatively short history in Kerala, India. Fishery activities have intensified only over the past ten years. Since 1992, the Indo-German Reservoir Fisheries Development Project has assisted the communities living around reservoirs in developing the fisheries resources through fisheries co-management principles. The technical interventions of the project aim at the introduction of adequate stock enhancement methods and improved managerial and organisational skills to the fishing communities and co-operatives, in order to promote self-help activities beyond the area of resource utilisation. Another important aspect is the initiation of an appropriate legal framework, which allows co-operative and non-organised fishermen and women to share the responsibility with the government for the resources accessible to them. Any enhancement in reservoirs can be achieved only through participation of the reservoir fisherfolk. Only then can enhanced productivity of stocked and indigenous fish species lead, together with other self-help activities, to an improved standard of living of the target group.


There are 32 reservoirs of various sizes in Kerala, which were designed and constructed primarily for irrigation, power generation, drinking water supply, and flood control. The total water spread area is about 30,000 ha.

Fisheries development started in the 1980s when fisheries co-operative societies were formed by the State Department of Fisheries (DoF). Society members belonging to scheduled castes (SC) and scheduled tribes (ST)1 living around the reservoir area were primarily agricultural labourers and minor forest produce collectors. They were drawn into the fisheries sector, especially reservoir fisheries, with the intention to channel and utilise special government funds, such as special component plan and tribal sub-plan funds, through SC/ST fishermen co-operatives.

The Government of India maintains as part of its policy a list of communities who require special attention since they are socially, educationally and economically weaker sections of the society. Some of these communities still remain under the poverty line. Therefore, both Central and State Governments feel that special development programmes are necessary for the overall improvement of these communities, thereby bringing them into the mainstream of the society.

1 Scheduled castes and scheduled tribes are the castes which are listed in a ‘special schedule’ by the Government

Today ten reservoirs are managed under a culture-based fishery, stocked by the DoF and harvested by members of fisheries co-operatives and independent fishermen. 1048 men are organised in co-operatives, about 1500 independent fishermen are fully or occasionally engaged in reservoir fishing. The average fisher family includes 4.92 persons2.

The Indo-German Reservoir Fisheries Development Project (IGFP) started its operations in February 1992. The IGFP forms a joint initiative of the Indian and German Governments and is implemented by DoF and the associated Germany-based consulting firms COFAD and GOPA. The overall goal of the IGFP is to improve the utilisation of the reservoirs for fish production with the highest possible participation of and benefits to weaker sections of the reservoir population. To facilitate the participatory management process at the reservoirs the project activities concentrate on:


Out of the ten reservoirs under the project umbrella a representative sample of five has been selected for detailed discussion. The reservoirs are: Malampuzha (2213 ha), Chulliyar (159 ha), Pothundy (363 ha), Peechi (1263 ha), and Vazhani (255 ha). Because fishermen are usually reluctant to reveal their actual revenue from fishery, the income per fisherman is calculated on the basis of the official register maintained by the respective fishermen's societies.

Fishermen's knowledge and awareness of a sustainable utilisation of the fisheries resource were investigated and relevant information was obtained from the societies' records, DoF and project reports.

Since 1994, a participatory planning process or “co-operative action planning” (CAP) has been initiated at all five reservoirs. The implementation of the plans is evaluated and revised (if necessary) by the fishermen. Apart from the participation of the coop fishermen, participation of family members, especially women, is ensured. The formulation, implementation and monitoring of the CAP is facilitated by community organisers posted at or in the vicinity of the fishing villages.

All five reservoir sites are equipped with hatchery and nursery facilities. The facilities are owned by the DoF, but used exclusively by co-operatives. The hatcheries are managed by a group of fishermen (usually 5) selected by the co-operative members. The hatchery group members were trained in fingerling production and hatchery management. Data on investments, running costs, production and sales are subjected to economic analysis calculating internal rate of returns (IRR).

2 Census by the project in 1993

Major carp fingerlings for stocking (Catla catla, Labeo rohita, Cirrhinus mrigala, Labeo fimbriatus, Cyprinus carpio) are reared in ponds, mesh fence cut-off reservoir coves and subsidiary impoundments, the latter being a bunded-off cove retaining catchment water during the low drawdown water level in the main reservoir basin. A subsidiary impoundment with a water spread area of about 0.65 ha was constructed on an experimental basis in Malampuzha reservoir. The results of this experiment were utilised for the assessment of the technical feasibility and subjected to economic analysis.


Except for Chulliyar, the reservoir fishermen still remain under the poverty line3 (Table 1). Since income from fishing is very low, in most co-operatives the degree of participation in fishing is very low. Chulliyar, the smallest reservoir (159 ha) among the five pilot reservoirs, is the most productive reservoir.

Table 1. Socio-economic and demographic profiles of the fishing communities in five reservoirs of Kerala. (Source: Socio-economic baseline survey of five reservoir fisheries communities, 1993 and Project M&E Data).

No of Fishing Families (290)      77     42      27      98     46
Average Family Size (No)   4.81  5.86   4.48   4.78  4.85
Educational Background(%)     
 Illiterate   33.5  21.1   64.5    38.7     57
 Primary   26.5  30.9   23.1    26.7  17.9
 Upper Primary   17.6     26     9.1    21.6  15.2
 High School   13.8  19.2     3.3    11.8    5.1
 Above High School     8.6    2.8     0.6       1.2    1.8
Coop Membership 1993(1996)84(98)52(50)27(38)116(195)52(58)
Active Members 1993(1996)49(34)42(16)26(35)    36(25)22(16)
Annual Income per Fisherman from Fishery (in Rs.)*4,8453,53714,380     3,6386,841

* Rs. 36 ≈ US $ 1

In larger reservoirs, such as Malampuzha (2213 ha) and Peechi (1300 ha), the returns on the investments in stocking are not so promising (Table 2). The recapture rates vary between 0.14% and 9%. However, the recapture figures do not include the undersized fish removed through fishing and the non-registered catches. The poor return on the stocking is due to the poor quality of the seed and wrong timing of release, which may lead to competition for food between the existing and stocked fish.

3 Poverty line in India: Rs. 11,000; absolute poverty is defined as a family income of below Rps. 8,500 per annum ($ 1 □ Rs. 36)

Table 2. Returns from stocking in five reservoirs.

Recapture rate (in %)*0.14 2.12 0.85 3.93 9.02 
Net returns in Sales **-3,415,422 368,763 -183,488 938,849 2,460,733 

* Average size of harvested fish is assumed to be one kg
** Stocking is shown as numbers and yield as kg. Average price of a fingerling is Rs. 0.30/ind. and for yield Rs. 25/kg

The recorded catches are necessarily an underestimation for several reasons. Some catch (up to 30%) is side channelled by the co-operative fishermen themselves (Ramalingam and Gulathi, 1993). Another up to 7 times officially recorded catch may be captured by independent fishermen. The co-operative fishermen see low returns for their work inputs (Table 6a and 6b). 25% of the fish catch is given to the government and 25% goes to the members of the co-operative (Mukunda et al., 1993). Furthermore the remaining 50% are fixed at low price. Co-operative members do not have the right to fix or negotiate the fish price which is given to them by the DoF. All this combined contributes to a lack of motivation.

For the stocking of the reservoirs the fishermen co-operatives depend entirely on government funds. With the exception of Chulliyar, the societies' financial resources are too meagre to purchase sufficient stocking material. Quite often, criteria like quality fingerlings, required size and species are not taken care of, due to a lack of sufficient funds for stocking material. In addition, fingerling production facilities are very limited. Due to the scarcity of fish seed timely stocking doesn't take place. The main bottleneck is the rearing space. As a result the size of the stocked fingerlings is often only 30–40 mm.

Hatchery operation has created employment for 5 fishermen at each reservoir site. Out of the five mini-hatcheries, one is water-based whereas the remaining four are land-based. The water-based hatchery is established at the Malampuzha reservoir, since the co-operative doesn't possess any land of their own and government owned land was not available to them. This hatchery is the first of its kind in India. The hatchery has two components: one unit for keeping brood stock in cages and another unit for hypophysation and incubating eggs. The unit has a production capacity of up to 10 million hatchlings during the breeding season from May to August. The co-operative fishermen who were trained in hatchery operations produced 7 million hatchlings during the 1995/96 season. The hatchlings produced in the floating hatchery were grown to fingerlings in the impoundment. The economic feasibility is shown in the analysis 1 (Table 3). Hatchlings were also reared by the co-operative in local natural ponds and rented ponds. Excess hatchlings were sold to other co-operatives and prospective fish farmers. The economics, and IRR with regard to the impoundment, are shown in the analysis 2 (Table 4).

A preliminary survey on the unutilised and underutilised species in Malampuzha reservoir revealed that especially the Malabar sprat (Ehivara fluviatilis) could be of great economic importance (Beck et al., 1994). These small sardines grow to a maximum size of 30–40 mm, and do not appear in the official catches of the co-operative fishermen. The Malabar sprat is found to be a successful commercial fishery in the backwaters of Kerala. One kg of dried fish fetches up to Rs. 130/- making its exploitation promising.

There is considerable potential for improving the harvest of indigenous and/or self-recruiting fish species (e.g. Oreochromis mossambicus, Cyprinus carpio, Gonoproktopetus curmuca, Puntius sarana, Puntius filamentosus). At present small growing varieties largely remain underexploited due to the shortage of appropriate fishing methods and the lack of incentives for co-operative fishermen to harvest these stocks. On the other hand detrimental fishing methods, such as explosives, poison and the indiscriminate use of small-mesh sized gill nets, cause a serious decline of breeding stocks and recruitment.

The CAP exercises paved the way for achieving participatory approaches in planning, implementing and managing activities with the co-operatives (Hartmann and Aravindakshan, 1995). The degree of participation of co-operative members in the CAP exercises is comparatively high. Table 5 shows the activities planned by the co-operatives and their percentages of achievement.

Table 3. Analysis 1 (Sales will be up to Rs. 190,000 per annum) Internal rate of return for floating hatchery at Malampuzha reservoir.

Investment YearYear 0Year 1Year 2Year 3Year 4Year 5Year 6
Production Year1995/961996/971997/981998/991999/20002000/012001/02
Repair/Maintenance 5005,00010,00015,00020,00025,000
Running Costs/Equipment/Wages 30,00030,00030,00030,00030,00030,000
Returns from Sales 190,000190,000190,000190,000190,000190,000
Gross Profit-450,000159,500155,000150,000145,000140,000135,000

Internal Rate of Return (IRR) = 24%

Table 4. Analysis 2 (Sales will be up to Rs. 150,000 per annum) Internal rate of return for impoundment at Malampuzha reservoir.

Investment YearYear 0Year 1Year 2Year 3Year 4Year 5Year 6
Production Year1995/961996/971997/981998/991999/20002000/012001/02
Running Costs/Equipment/Wages03,0003,0003,0003,0003,0003,000
Returns from Sales030,000100,000120,000150,000150,000150,000
Gross Profit-150,000-78,00092,000112,000142,000142,000142,000

Internal Rate of Return (IRR) = 32%

Table 5. Implementation of activities by co-operatives (in %).

1. Fingerling production35995354541002698  
2. Setting-up of hatchery  10098      
3. Hatchery training 100   100    
4. Water supply          
5. Purchase of land f/ponds          
6. Increase Fishing Groups100 100   100   
7. Decentralising landing sites          
8. Training in fishing    100     
9. Fishing implements68100    488 91
10. Protection overflow    26     
11. Reservoir management  51       
12. Transport facilities 886467100     
13. Fuel supply 96        
14. OBM training          
15. Engine repair facilities          
16. Fish marketing94  292598100   
17. Employment for women 100  50 51  50
18. Subsidiary occupation          
19. Prevention of poaching          
20. General infrastructure  1770      
21. Housing   67      
22. Education  70       
23. Health      25   
24. Membership welfare fund 86  5084100 20 
25. C-operation betw. Members767     25  
26. Joint project formulation 100        
27. Strengthening of coop.  14      67
28. Recruitment coop. Secret.          
29. Office building f/coop.       56  
30. Strengthening ST members          
31. Co-operation betw. coops.94100        
32. CAP implementation40915091 91100783660


Policy change and formation of co-operatives

The fishermen of the reservoir fisheries co-operatives (organised fishermen) are not traditional fishermen as found in the marine sector. Some independent fishermen fished the rivers at the pre-impoundment stage and continued their activities after the dam construction. Others settled in the area seeking employment in dam construction, eventually bringing in traditions from Kerala backwater fisheries and reservoirs of neighbouring states such as Tamil Nadu. According to the Travancore-Cochin Fisheries Act of 1950 the fishing right (i.e. the right to stock the reservoir, to access the water body, to perform fishing and to sell the catches) remains with the Department of Fisheries. As part of government policy, in the 1980s co-operative societies for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes were formed for the exploitation of the fisheries resources. Most of the society members were agricultural labourers and minor forest produce collectors. It was decided to meet the investment costs for fishing implements and stocking the reservoirs by a 100% subsidy to the co-operatives from the government. Non-organised or independent fishermen are considered illegal. In the absence of a unified inland fisheries act, at present it is not possible to deregulate fishing rights to the users or selected user communities, effect legal enforcement and to carry out a sound fisheries management. There is urgent need to formulate a legal framework for the whole inland fisheries with the participation of the fisherfolk.

Rights over the sale of fish

The income of a fisherman whose catch is less than 5 kg per day is far below the amount he can earn from daily wages in most other sectors (Table 6a and 6b). This is one of the reasons for the low participation of co-operative fishermen in fishing activities in many of the reservoirs. With a view to evading the “royalty” and fetching a higher price for their individual benefit there is always a tendency among the co-operative members to sidechannel their catches instead of bringing them to the official co-operative sales counter. Therefore, the genuineness of the figures booked in the official registers is often doubted. The project managers cannot depend only on such data for suggesting any reservoir management measures. A realistic quantification of the side-channelled share by co-operative fishermen and the share taken away from non-organised fishermen is essential for obtaining a realistic estimate of total catches from a reservoir. For these reasons the reservoir fishermen should have the rights over the produce of their labour at the reservoir.

Table 6a. Comparison of nearby* market sales prices and co-operative fishermen sales prices for fish.

Co-operative Society Prices (in Rs)Average Market Prices (in Rs)
SpeciesCo-opMarket IMarket IIMarket III
Other Indigenous Species15303025

* “Nearby” Malampuzha: Dance Market, Olavakkode Market and Pudunagaram Market.

Present “royalty” system and need for change

The present set-up in which the organised fishermen carry out fishing operations “legally” and the non-organised fishermen “illegally”, leads to a situation where the inputs are contributed only by the government on behalf of the SC/ST fishermen who are organised in co-operative societies. Both these groups have conflicting economical and social interests. The fear of the SC/ST co-operatives is that they may be slowly displaced by the present non-organised fishermen if they form a general co-operative open to all fishermen. The grievance of the non-organised fishermen is that they will be deprived of their livelihood, if they are not legally organised. Therefore, it seems that the only possible solution is the introduction of a licensing system for the fishermen. The present SC/ST society could be empowered with the issuing of licences to the non-organised fishermen in a limited way. The number of licences that can be issued to fishermen at each reservoir can be determined by an expert committee including fishermen and other stakeholders of the resource.

Table 6b. Calculation of co-operative fishermen income with a 5 kg average catch per day and average income from other professions per day.

Catch (kg)Æ Fish Sales Price (Rs)Total Value (Rs)Co-op Share 25% Govt. Share (Royality) 25%Æ Daily Income
 Other Professions: Agriculture Labour (Seasonal - Men)70–100
   Agric. Labour (Seasonal - Women)45–70
   Firewood Collection (Women)60
   Toddy Tapping (Men)100
   Wood Cutting125
   Minor Forest Produce Collection50–60
   (Tribal Men and Women Only) 

Ownership of craft and gear

The present set-up with the society owning the fishing implements leaves a feeling among the members that they do not have the responsibility for maintaining and mending the craft and gear to keep them in good shape. When a licensing system is introduced, it will give way to individual ownership of craft and gear, consequently increasing members' interest in maintaining and improving craft and gear.

Fisheries-related activities

The existing hatchery and nursery operations have room for technical and managerial improvements (Tables 2, 3 and 4). With the provision of proper training and incentives to hatchery operators (e.g. sharing of profit among the members) effective management and profitability of operations could be enhanced substantially. More important than just the financial returns from sales of fingerlings is the fact that hatchery operations create employment opportunities for co-operative members. Some of these hatchery operators extend their services to private fish farmers in the area.

Beside opening sales outlets for fish and value-added fish products, the co-operatives can provide further services to the fishermen, such as collection, storage and distribution of fish. There are a number of other avenues where the societies can venture. Some of the reservoirs are great tourist attractions. This potential is yet not fully tapped by the co-operatives. For promoting this kind of economic activity the co-operative members require training in small-scale business planning and assistance in financing investments.

Strategy for stocking

The bulk of fish catches from five investigated Kerala reservoirs is represented by Indian major carps and common carp (Fig. 1). A close look at the catch composition reveals that the present share contributed by culture-based fishery in large reservoirs is about 30% (Taege and Peters, 1995). Even though Peechi has 1300 hectares, 90% of the catches are contributed by cultured species since the co-operative fishermen are resorting to selective fishing (Fig. 1). In some of the reservoirs the cost of stocking has been higher than the total value of the fish yields for the consecutive years (Table 2). Up to 70% of the total catches are contributed by indigenous and self-recruiting species. Therefore, the present situation requires drastic changes in the regime of stocking. Constraints to effective stocking are undersized fingerlings, comparatively large predatory populations, untimely stocking and poor quality and quantity of the stocking material. The average size of fingerlings now stocked at a rate of 1000–1500 ha/y is 30–40 mm. The ideal size should be 80–100 mm, stocked at a rate of not more than 600/ha/y (Hartmann and Aravindakshan, 1995). Total cost of stocking at the rate of 1500/ha/y will be about one million Rs. (the average cost of one farm-produced fingerling, 30–40 mm in size, is Rs. 0.30). Stocking of large fingerlings at a rate of 600/ha/y would reduce cost to about 0.4 million Rs. The fingerlings may be grown to 80–100 mm size in subsidiary impoundments and mesh fence cut-off coves within the same reservoir before their release. This will prevent currently high mortality during their transport. Further the cost of grower feed can be cut down since natural food material is available.

Exploitation of under-utilised species

The elsewhere successful “small sardine” (E. fluviatilis) fishery may be adopted in Malampuzha reservoir where conditions are suitable for its economic exploitation. Appropriate gear may have to be developed and adopted by the fishermen. Commercial exploitation of the “small sardine” would create additional employment opportunities and economic gains.

Stock enhancement of self-recruiting and indigenous fish species

The sticking nature of the common carp eggs requires aquatic or submersed vegetation for their attachment and subsequent development. Such substrates are usually absent in reservoirs with high water level fluctuation, reducing the chances for natural recruitment. Artificial substrate can be provided to increase the chances of natural recruitment.

In spawning and nursery grounds fishing operations should be banned. In the months following stocking and natural recruitment the use of fine mesh nets should be restricted. Conservation and mesh size regulations need to be enforced. This can be achieved through strong participation of people (target groups, authorities, NGOs, etc.), who should participate both in the formulation of such rules and their enforcement.

Figure 1. Average catch composition for the years 1992–1996 in 5 pilot reservoirs.

Figure 1.Figure 1.
Figure 1.Figure 1.
Figure 1.

IMC - Indian Major Carp
CC - Common Carp

Participatory planning and implementation

Most fishermen are reluctant to accept new technical, economic or social measures unless they are convinced. Therefore, starting from the grassroot level, participation and active involvement of fisherfolk is inevitable in planning and implementation of any activity which has a direct bearing on the fishermen. Maintaining the ecosystem balance and managing the resources on a sustainable basis must be the primary responsibility of the fishermen. In the present set-up where custody rests with the government, the aim should be to strive for a co-management regime, where both fishermen and government jointly carry the responsibility. A framework for socio-economic enhancement of fisherfolk must necessarily be a part of the “bottom-up” participatory plan. A possible strategy, including NGOs in the process, is shown in Diagram 1.


The IGFP aims at improving the living condition of fisher families who are settling around the reservoirs through a better and sustainable utilisation of reservoir fish resources.

To improve the efficiency of stocking the project introduced and promoted decentralised fingerling production. Fingerlings from rearing and nursing facilities in the vicinity of the reservoirs, operated by the fishermen, are of better quality. Moreover the production of fingerlings through the co-operatives has provided additional income to the fishermen. However, skill transfer and provision of fishing inputs alone are insufficient to induce profitable and self-sustained fisheries exploitation in Kerala.

In order to enable target group articulation and empowerment the project developed and implemented CAP as an institutionalised framework from 1994 onwards. CAP refers to all resources encountered at the reservoirs including fish, government services, welfare funds and external resources as well as resources mobilised within the co-operatives, and was shown to be an efficient and participatory tool in:

In the context of empowering local communities to manage their resource it is essential to:

Transfer the fishing right to the existing users: in order to stimulate long-term investments (e.g. fingerling production, purchase of fishing implements) it is necessary to provide fishermen with the right to harvest and market the fish from their reservoir. Access to the resource should be regulated by a licensing/lease system. If stocking continues to be financed by the Government, the licence/lease fee in the long run has to compensate for the cost of stocking.

Diagram 1. Participatory planning and implementation.

Diagram 1.

Give access rights to non-co-operative fishermen: in many large reservoirs the majority of fishermen does not belong to the SC/ST. Such fishermen should have the right to fish if a common sense of responsibility for the resource and participatory management is to be induced.

Create institutional arrangements for negotiating competing resource uses, access rights and fisheries regulation: reservoirs are constructed for irrigation, power generation and domestic water supply and not for fisheries use or fingerling production. Multiple resource uses should be negotiated with competing resource users. It is essential that fishermen participate in the formulation of fisheries regulations and access rights. Bottom-up planning will provide for appropriate and acceptable fisheries regulations and facilitate their enforcement.

Reduce dependence on government funds: the policy of giving subsidies to co-operative fishermen merely for reasons of welfare should be adjusted towards favouring productive investments (e.g. fingerling production facilities). This will motivate the target group to actively participate in the development, consequently reducing the need for external funding.


Beck R., K. Seifert and M. von Siemens. 1994. Report on investigations of the reservoir fisheries at Malampuzha, Peechi, Pothundi, Vazhani, and Chulliyar. (Internal Report).

Hartmann W.D. and N. Aravindakshan. 1995. Strategy and plans for management of reservoir fisheries in Kerala, India. (Internal Report).

Mukunda Das V.M., S. Balakrishnan and W. Hartmann. 1993. Study on marketing of fish from five reservoirs in Palaghat and Trichur District. (Internal Report).

Ramalingam I. and L. Gulathi. 1993. Socio-economic survey of five reservoir fishing communities. (Internal Report).

Taege M. and D.M. Peters. 1995. Management proposals for the reservoirs Malampuzha, Peechi, Pothundy, Vazhani and Chulliyar. (Internal Report).

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