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3.1 Private Sector Activities

3.1.1 Finfish

Although there have been one or two attempts to establish fish farms in Sri Lanka, there is at present virtually no activity of this kind on a commercial scale. Owners of fish ponds usually take fish harvested for their own use rather than for sale. The number of ponds is very small. The quantity of fish produced is not known, but is at present probably negligible.

The fisheries in the perennial reservoirs and lakes are the result, at least in part, of stocking these waters with appropriate species, some produced in Government hatcheries. These activities are described later below.

The Coral Sea Company in 1979 started an eel farm with Japanese assistance. The culture unit consists of seven concrete tanks with sand bottoms. Water is supplied from four surface wells, but not in adequate quantities. Small eels (elvers) are obtained from local fishermen who catch them in the Kelani river. The elvers are fed with fish meal mixed with alpha starch. When larger, the eels are fed with tilapia. After a growing period of 13 months, the eels measure between 40 and 45 cm, at which size they are exported alive to Japan. Mortality has been about 25 percent and production about 400 kg per month.

3.1.2 Crustaceans

A small farm for penaeid shrimp began operation in Batticaloa in 1977. It consists of seven ponds totalling 0.7 ha; six contain the farmed stock and the seventh is used for culture of tilapia for feeding the shrimp. The ponds are stocked by collecting wild Penaeus monodon and P. indicus. Water replenishment is by tidal exchange. Soil conditions seem unfavourable. The operator's policy seems to be to use much land and labour but as little as possible in the way of purchased inputs. In 1978 the farm was virtually destroyed by a tropical storm, so that by the time of the Mission's visit only one crop had been harvested, which consisted of 440 kg of shrimp and 240 kg of mullets and milkfish. This result has encouraged the operator to construct new ponds with a total area of 7.2 ha and to plan a water pumping system. He is making arrangements to lease the site of a hatchery and the Government have also leased to him an area of lagoon at a concessional rate. He plans to construct a farm with a total area of 40 ha.

The Scancey Trading Company has been seeking finance from private sources for a shrimp farm of 160 ha, which will include a hatchery. They intend to employ foreign nationals to provide the necessary technical knowledge and experience.

Lever Brothers (Ceylon) have been embarked upon a venture to produce fresh water prawns Macrobrachium rosenbergii since 1973; the quantities produced so far are small in relation to the effort and the facilities in use. These include cement tanks and five ponds totalling 0.2 ha of water area. There are six staff, two of whom are graduate biologists. The water supply seems deficient in both quantity and quality. Post-larval production was said to be 3 000 per ton of water used.

3.1.3 Expertise

Of the people actively engaged in commercial fish farming at the time of the Mission's visit, none seemed to possess much experience in fields of aquaculture other than what they had gained in the course of the ventures referred to above. The Mission became aware of the existence of only three professional aquaculturists in the private sector.

The kinds of approach adopted by various commercial enterprises to the solution of their own technical problems range, as is usual, from in-house pragmatism to the purchase and importation of foreign expertise.

3.2 Government Support for Aquaculture Development

3.2.1 Programme and budget

The Government body technically responsible for aquaculture is the Ministry of Fisheries. They regard fish farming, whether in fresh or brackish water, as coming under the general heading of inland fisheries.

As discussed earlier above, the Ministry projects the supply of fish to 20 kg per caput by 1983, not including any imports. (This is equivalent to an increase in the supply of fish per caput by 8.7 kg over a 5 year period.) About three-quarters of this increase is planned to come from an expansion of marine fisheries, the last quarter for inland fisheries and aquaculture.

It is already fairly clear that the fisheries in the major tanks incur comparatively low costs of production and are capable of expansion. The Government is providing the incentive for such expansion by subsidizing the purchase of boats and nets.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Fisheries has accepted the concept that seasonal tanks are potentially a major fishery resource. They have, therefore, embarked upon a pilot-scale programme of development of fish farming in such tanks. This is described in more detail later below. This project receives from Government hatcheries supplies of fingerlings for on-growing in the tanks. While not requiring the hatcheries to show a profit, the Ministry of Fisheries recognizes that it is better for all concerned that the final product - the fish harvested from the tanks - be produced as cheaply as possible.

The rehabilitation and development of seasonal tanks, with the object of improving irrigation and allowing the growing of two crops a year, is being accorded the highest priority. This programme is the subject of financial and technical assistance from foreign governments and international agencies and is monitored by the Minor Irrigation Rehabilitation Project Committee, chaired by the Secretary of the Ministry of Lands and Land Development. Technical supervision is exercised by the Irrigation Department.

The responsibility for maintenance of village irrigation tanks, however, and all matters pertaining to the management of the water therein, including release of water from the tanks, falls on the Department of Agrarian Services within the Ministry of Agricultural Development and Research. Presumably they fulfill their responsibilities in consultation with the village councils referred to above. There is, as yet, little experience of coordinating fisheries and agricultural activities in seasonal tanks.

The Ministry is actively supporting the adoption of rural fish culture in ponds. This is done through subsidy of pond construction and in some of the fishery stations through demonstration of harvesting during “extension days”.

A new system of management of irrigation tanks and land at the village level, which involves Government officials as well as villagers, is the subject of proposed legislation. Anyone intending to raise fish in a tank or on irrigated land will have to obtain the prior approval of the irrigation council of the village.

Inland, no individual can hold more than 20 ha of land.

All shore up to 50 ft (16 m) from the high-water mark is “crown” land. The Government is willing to encourage shrimp farming (which has potential export earnings) by concessional leasing of lagoons and similar areas.

Export of cultured shrimp is also being encouraged. One company preparing for a shrimp culture venture on a large scale has been given special prerogatives including tax holidays, exemption from customs dues and import and export taxes, and liberal rules for repatriation of earnings by foreign nationals, such as are already enjoyed within the Free Trade Zone of the Greater Colombo Economic Commission.

The total capital budget identified for the period 1979–1983 in support of the development programme as outlined in the Master Plan for Development of Fisheries in Sri Lanka, is estimated to be just under Cey.Rs. 1 900 million. The Ministry of Fisheries controls about one-third; the remaining two-thirds of the budget are expected to be provided by the Ceylon Fisheries Corporation, the Ceylon Fishery Harbours Corporation and private investors. Of the proposed capital expenditure (Cey.Rs. 1 900 million) half is unrelated to aquaculture and only about 4 percent is provided exclusively for inland fisheries (development, research and subsidies), including aquaculture. Out of that part of the capital budget proposed for control by the Ministry of Fisheries 19 percent is for inland fisheries and aquaculture. The Ministry expects production of fish by this sector to account for 17 percent of the national fish production in 1983. In 1978 it accounted for about 10 percent. In this perspective the amount of Ministry funds allocated to inland fisheries seems small.

3.2.2 Professional and technical staff

In all, the Ministry has a staff of 38 aquaculturists, 32 of whom are employed outside Colombo; resident accommodation is provided at the field stations.

During the 1970s, twenty-five of the Ministry's staff, mostly graduate biologists, spent six months in China studying the culture of carps. Four of these individuals have since left the Ministry's employment. Ten of the biologists were sent abroad again on other study tours and courses varying in duration from a few weeks to eight months; the emphasis again was on fresh water aquaculture. Two other graduates who did not go to China have also been abroad on courses. Of the nine graduates recruited in the last few years and appointed as aquaculturists, none had any previous experience.

A proposal to establish a training course in aquaculture at the Fisheries Training Institute, Crew Island, has been under consideration for some time. Meanwhile, apart from the foreign study tours and courses referred to above, there is no organized training of aquaculturists in Sri Lanka. One of the universities is planning to offer a course in fisheries science. Some of the content of existing courses is, of course, relevant to aquaculture, but there is no formal course of education offering specialization in this field. The basic disciplines necessary in the field of aquaculture include not only biology, but also physiology, nutrition, feed technology, engineering and economics.

Many university graduates in applied sciences, engineering and technology are attracted abroad by better salaries and conditions. (During the Mission's visit, there was a prominent advertisement in the public press for experienced aquaculturists to work in an African country.) This “brain drain” naturally reduces also the Ministry of Fisheries' chances of recruiting qualified staff for its aquaculture programme.

Meanwhile, those who have chosen to enter the Ministry's aquaculture service, which involves work at remote stations in the field, suggest that their efforts could be made more effective if they were relieved of administrative and clerical work. They would also like to see more definite prospects for promotion, and be given greater responsibilities. The Mission formed the view that administrative tasks and inadequate facilities at many of the stations were not the only cause of poor performance. It is possible, however, that improvements in the lot of the aquaculturists would be more likely to come about if present efforts were achieving more impressive results.

3.2.3 Fish culture stations

The Government has established 11 fish culture stations to sustain the development of fisheries in major- and medium-size tanks. Four additional stations were under construction at the time of the Mission's visit and another was at the planning stage. Some of the facilities at the station are listed in Table 2 below:

Table 2

Fish culture stations in Sri Lanka

DistrictLocation1 Total area of station (ha)Number and area of earthen ponds (ha)Number and area of cement tanks (ha)Water supply2Fresh or brackish water station
AnuradhapuraPadavia  2.0110.8200.04PoorFresh
PolonnaruwaPolonnaruwa  7.2491.68530.096GoodFresh
MataleDambulla Oya310.1313.84100.02ExcellentFresh
PuttalamPambala3  6.4  70.88200.04PoorBrackish
KurunegalaRambodagalla4  4.8  90.5360.07PoorFresh
KandyMavanella3      Fresh
AmparaiInginiyagala  3.2100.68250.042FairFresh
GamphaPitipana  4.4113.4  7 PoorBrackish
KandyGinigathena  8.0  60.02300.075GoodFresh
Nuwara EliyaBambara Keley5  3.6100.510 ExcellentFresh
BadullaBeragala  4.4  71.2250.06PoorFresh
KalutaraPanapitiya     PoorFresh
MonaragalaUdawalawe I  6.0170.9100.03FairFresh
MonaragalaUdawalawe II613.2182.2540.02GoodFresh
HambantotaMuruthawela3  6.0161.36300.46 Fresh

1 See map page v
2 The Mission graded the water supply as follows: Excellent, good, fair, poor
3 Under construction
4 Also identified as “Panagamuwa” station
5 There is also a trout hatchery at Nuwara Eliya town and a few ponds
6 Sometimes referred to as “Chinese station” in the report

An aquaculturist is in charge of each station. He is supported by technical and other staff. Residential accomodation is provided. From the point of view of technical requirements for fish breeding and seed production, several of the stations are not well situated and only a few of the stations have an adequate supply of water.

Although some of the stations are referred to as research establishments, their main function has been the production of fingerlings for stocking tanks. Breeding of common carp is carried out in an emperical manner and production of fry is low. Milkfish fry collected from Mannar are brought to some of the stations for rearing and distribution into the major and medium tanks for growth, but to date they have not formed a significant proportion of the landings from any of the major tanks. During 1979 the total production of fish seed by all the fish breeding stations amounted to 2 816 550, out of which approximately 2 350 000 were used for stocking. The output of the stations, if used at their designed capacity, should be more like 17 million fingerlings.

The Mission's impression is that modifications to ensure achievement of the designed output would be difficult and, in some cases, impracticable.

3.2.4 Research, development and extension work

(i) Research

The Government undertakes most of the scientific investigation and technical development work directly related to aquaculture. The Ministry of Fisheries has a Research Division active in this field, an Inland Fisheries Development Division and a separate Mariculture Research Unit.

Although there is a long-established interest in fish and fisheries in the universities, the research carried out therein has been mainly in such fields as taxonomy, biology, ecology and limnology, and not aimed directly at solving problems of economic importance or at identifying opportunities for new kinds of economic activity. Research within the Ministry has tended to follow this academic tradition: individuals have pursued their own particular interests rather than work on a coordinated programme directly related to development and economic viability. An example of this pattern is the research effort that has gone into studies of oysters. Thus, the research effort has not been of a kind, or on a sufficient scale, to achieve results that would be of significant help to Government and industry when making decisions regarding future action in the field of aquaculture. This may be the result of inadequate formal mechanisms for giving advice on the objectives to be reached by the programme of research and development, for formulating a detailed programme and for monitoring its execution.

In February 1980 a separate Mariculture Research Unit was formed within the Ministry; at the time of the Mission's visit there were four workers who had begun studies of the seasonal availability of Penaeus monodon; they had also started work on projects related to the culture of that species in pens and in ponds, and on the culture of milkfish and mullet in salterns.

(ii) Development

The Inland Fisheries Development Division, with support from various sponsors, has embarked upon trials to determine the technical feasibility of floating cage culture, mostly in fresh waters. The species used in most of the trials is Tilapia nilotica, but milkfish and carp are also used (Annex 5). The trials are taking place at nine or more locations and at the time of the Mission's visit there were obvious logistic and administrative problems. Results that are sufficiently reliable to serve as a base for investment decisions will not be available for some years.

In 1979 a pilot project was begun for the polyculture of four species of fish (two species of Chinese carp, common carp and Tilapia mossambica) in seasonal tanks. Five tanks were selected for the initial trials, and in one of them the harvest was in the region of 500 to 700 kg/ha. In 1980 the trials were extended to twenty tanks with a total area of more than 200 ha. The results are sufficiently promising to justify expanded efforts in development, but not yet sufficient to assess the viability of commercial activities.

As the above implies, development work is concentrated largely, but not entirely, on attempts to adapt and verify in local conditions various techniques of fish farming already well established elsewhere.

One other scheme of the Ministry has among its objectives the encouragement of technical development directly by the private sector. The Ministry's research and development division has no programme in the field of fresh water pond culture. Instead, the Ministry established in the middle of 1980 a scheme to provide subsidies for pond construction, up to a limit of Cey.Rs. 5 000 for a pond of 0.4 ha. The stated purpose is to determine the viability of pond culture. At the time of the Mission's visit, a number of applications were being assessed, all relating to the use of “marginal” land; saline paddy fields; abandoned minor tanks; old lime quarries. Neither of the two applicants interviewed by the Mission had realistic notions of what results they might expect or of what the venture would demand by way of inputs on their own part. It was not clear how the Government were intending to cope with the tasks of providing advice on these subjects, monitoring progress, and bringing about an exchange and feedback of experience, in the absence of a knowledgeable and effective extension service.

The Institute of Fish Technology has a programme of development of consumer products from species of fish readily available in Sri Lanka, but at present under-prized or unacceptable to most consumers.

(iii) Extension work and feedback

Simulated commercial fish farming systems are not in operation at the fish culture stations. Since, moreover, real commercial fish farms are few or non-existent, the aquaculturists have little opportunity to become familiar with the complexities and interactions of full-scale systems, to acquire a feeling for costs and earnings, to experience problems in an operational context, or to identify oppportunities for improvements in methods and equipment.

Since no commercially viable systems of fish farming have been developed, the Ministry has few results to implement and no systems to demonstrate; their aquaculturists can offer only very limited advice to would-be or practising fish farmers. An extension service would at present be limited in its activities very largely to disseminating published information, the relevance of which would not be established, and to conveying information about the industry's problems to their administrative, technical and scientific colleagues in the Ministry. A functioning extension service in the field of aquaculture has not in fact been created.

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