Animal Husbandry

What is Aquaculture: Meaning, Importance and Benefits

Updated on 29th March, 2024, By Akshay Pokharkar
What is Aquaculture: Meaning, Importance and Benefits
Aquaculture is an effective approach to cultivate aquatic organisms in a controlled manner. India has considerably increased its aquaculture production, mainly in relation to shrimps and freshwater fishes. The key benefits of aquaculture include economic development, health and nutrition, environmentally friendly and ecological balance.

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The farming of aquatic organisms like molluscs, aquatic plants, crustaceans and fish is called aquaculture. It is also known as aqua farming and involves breeding, rearing and harvesting of saltwater and freshwater populations in controlled conditions.

The most common practice of aquaculture is fish farming. Examples of aquaculture fish are Catfish, Milkfish, Seabass and Grouper. The Blue Revolution scheme has helped increase aquaculture production and fisheries production in India using multi-dimensional activities.

What is Aquaculture?

Aquaculture meaning is defined as the husbandry or farming of aquatic plants and animals that are economically important under controlled conditions. It can take place in different water environments, like ponds, cages and other man-made closed systems.

You are mistaken if you believe that most fish you eat come from the ocean. It is usually from fish farms. Aquaculture intervenes in the rearing process so that more production is achieved. It can involve regular feeding, stocking and protection from predators.

Aquaculture in India

India ranks second in aquaculture production and is amongst the biggest global supplier of shrimp. Aquaculture is propagated by the 8,118 km long coastline that has pollution-free waters. Other major contributors include 5.4 million hectares of freshwater area and 1.24 million hectares of brackish water area.

Majorly 9 maritime Indian states practice aquaculture, and it mainly includes brackish and freshwater water culture. Andhra Pradesh leads in aquaculture, producing around 77.55% of the overall cultured crustaceans. The primary species reared in brackish water include P. monodon and L. vannamei. They make up for the huge amount of shrimp being exported to the European Union and other nations.

India ranks 3rd in fish production and has a share of about 8% in the global fish production. In 2021-22, fish production from aquaculture and inland fisheries reached 121.12 lakh tons, increasing from 61.36 lakh tons in 2013-14. It shows the rising interest of the young population in the aquaculture and fisheries sector. It is becoming a major source of entrepreneurship, income and employment.

Types of Aquaculture

There are different aquaculture systems based on the environment in which the organisms are cultivated. The types of aquaculture include marine aquaculture, freshwater aquaculture and brackish water aquaculture.

1.     Freshwater Aquaculture

Freshwater aquaculture includes ornamental fish farming, freshwater pearl culture, and breeding freshwater fish such as magur, rohu, catla, carp, and freshwater prawns. Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh grow catla in reservoirs and tanks. Freshwater farming is done using zero saline water.

Inland waters contribute to about 70% of India's total fish production. Around 65% of this is obtained from aquaculture. Some 1300 Carp Hatcheries produce supplies and seeds for fish farmers. Major carp is the leading cultured freshwater fish. It is followed by:

  • Exotic carps
  • Minor carps
  • Catfish
  • Trout

The inland water resources are typically categorised as warmwater resources and coldwater resources. The warmwater resources include reservoirs, tanks & ponds, rivers & canals, Brackishwater, Floodplain / Derelict Water Bodies and Saline / Alkaline affected areas. On the other hand, coldwater resources include natural lakes, rivers, and reservoirs.

The Indian inland fisheries can be categorised as:

  • Culture Fisheries (Aquaculture)
  • Sport Fisheries
  • Ornamental Fisheries
  • Coldwater Fisheries
  • Floodplain and Wetland Fisheries
  • Estuarine Fisheries: Estuaries & Backwaters
  • Riverine Fisheries: Rivers & Streams
  • Lacustrine Fisheries: Lakes & Reservoirs

2.     Brackishwater Aquaculture

Brackish water aquaculture is the breeding of fish belonging to the sea habitat, such as mud crabs, tiger shrimp, grey mullet and sea bass. It is common in states such as Goa, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, and West Bengal. A mix of mussel or clam meat, locally available snail, rice bran and oil cakes is used by fish farmers to feed the fish.

1.2 million hectares of brackishwater resources are available in India. They include mangrove plants, mudflats, canals, tidal creeks, backwaters, lakes, coastal lagoons and estuaries. Such water bodies are characterised by:

  1. Water level fluctuations synchronised with tides.
  2. Act as nursery grounds for several marine organisms.
  3. Higher productivity and nutrient content.
  4. A wide salinity range between 0 and 35 ppt.
  5. Support a diverse range of plants and animals.
  6. Develop artisanal capture fisheries and offer income to coastal fishers.

Around the 1980s, scientific brackishwater aquaculture was started. Due to a high export market potential, well-designed and managed ponds were employed to culture shrimps. Shrimp is cultured in around 0.16 million hectares presently. The key producers of shrimp are West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh. They account for around 80% of the total production in India.

3.     Mariculture

Mariculture involves cultivating marine organisms for several products like food. This specialised branch of aquaculture uses ponds, tanks or enclosed sections of the sea (pens/cages). The long coastline of India stretches along nine maritime states and four union territories.

Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is spread across 2.02 million km2, while the Continental Shelf is 0.53 million km2. EEZ has an annual potential yield of around 3.93 million tonnes of fish. Marine Fisheries is an integral part of the Indian Fisheries Sector.

The key marine fisheries are categorised as:

Bottom-water Fish (Demersal)

Eels, Flatfish, Pomfrets, Catfish, Perches

Mid-water Fish (Pelagic)

Horse Mackerel, Silver Bellies, Cobia, Bombay Duck

Surface-water Fish (Pelagic)

Tuna, Seer fish, Mackerel, Ribbonfish, Anchovies, Sardines


Importance of Aquaculture

Aquaculture plays a key role in addressing several challenges. The importance of aquaculture involves new trade opportunities, livelihood support and economic boost.

1.     Meeting Food Demand

The global population continues to grow, and thus, the demand for protein-rich foods is also rising. Seafood is a rich source of protein. Thus, aquaculture can help fulfil this demand plagued by a limited supply of fisheries. It ensures a consistent source of seafood.

Overfishing in natural resources like oceans is continuously increasing. For decades, wild fish have remained exploited. Aquaculture allows responsible farming of fish to provide seafood to growing populations.

2.     Conservation of Threatened Species

Overfishing of threatened species is a major problem in India. It can have serious socioeconomic and ecological consequences. In the marine fish stock assessment, 8.2% of 135 fish stocks were found to be overfished. It included varieties of sharks, groupers, lobsters and croakers.

Aquaculture can take the place of wild harvesting of such species. It is an effective alternative to reduce pressure from wild populations already under stress. This method recovers and maintains their ecological balance.

3.     Economic Growth

Aquaculture has a big contribution to the global and local economy. It generates employment opportunities in rural and coastal communities. At the primary level, the fisheries and aquaculture sector is a source of income for around 2.8 crore fishers and fish farmers. It supports livelihoods for small-scale farmers, processors, distributors and related industries.

4.     Resource Efficiency

The cons of traditional fishing include habitat destruction and unintentional bycatch. Aquaculture systems can be designed to minimise these negative impacts. This makes them a more environmentally friendly option. The benefits of aquaculture include efficient water use, reduced land footprint and controlled waste management.

Benefits of Aquaculture

The benefits of aquaculture are wide-ranging, more than just food production and economic growth. The key benefits include:

  • One of the main benefits of aquaculture is that it is a growing industry. The Global Aquaculture Market Report (2022) reveals that the aquaculture market will grow at 7.7% CAGR to reach 50.38 billion USD in 2026. Thus, it is an important economic driver that contributes to trade, employment and regional and local economic development.
  • Fish is a popular, healthy and nutritious protein source. Most people lack important nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin D. Fish provide these nutrients to ensure optimal brain and body function.
  • Aquaculture has relatively less damaging environmental impacts than other types of livestock farming. Generally, marine aquaculture operations need less land, less water and fewer resources. Also, its carbon footprint is smaller.
  • Overfishing can disrupt marine food chains, causing irreversible damage to marine ecosystems. Aquaculture lessens the need for excessive fishing. It allows marine environments to recover and regenerate.

Government Initiatives to Boost Aquaculture

Being rich in resources, India has a huge potential for developing fisheries, generating employment opportunities, earning foreign exchange and strengthening food security. Thus, there are several government schemes to promote fish farming in India. 

Major steps to expand aquaculture across India include:

Centrally Sponsored Scheme

During the 10th Plan, a Centrally Sponsored Scheme was introduced for the ‘Development of Inland Fisheries and Aquaculture’. This scheme comes with the following components:

  • Integrated Development of Inland Capture
  • Productive Utilisation of Inland Saline or Alkaline Soils for Aquaculture
  • Development of Waterlogged Areas
  • Coldwater Fisheries and Aquaculture
  • Development of Brackishwater Aquaculture
  • Development of Freshwater Aquaculture

Implementing the last two components is under Fish Farmers Development Associations (FFDAs) in all states/UTs.

Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana (PMMSY)

PMMSY aims to achieve responsible and sustainable development of the Indian fisheries sector. A budget of Rs. 20,050 crores has been approved for the period of FY 2020-21 - FY 2024-25. It addresses fish production, technology, management, quality and post-harvest infrastructure issues. This scheme works towards strengthening and modernising the entire value chain.

Fisheries and Aquaculture Infrastructure Development Fund (FIDF)

In 2018-19, FIDF was created with a size of Rs 7522.48 crore. This dedicated fund aims to develop infrastructure facilities in both inland and marine fisheries sectors. The Nodal Loaning Entities (NLEs) for this fund include:

  • National Cooperatives Development Corporation
  • National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development
  • All scheduled Banks

Under FIDF, eligible projects can get loans up to 80% of the total project cost. Up to 3% per annum of interest subvention is allowed for developing infrastructure facilities. The duration of this scheme is five years, i.e., 2018-2023. The maximum repayment period is 12 years and includes a moratorium of two years if the principal is repaid.

Notable Organisations

Today, starting a fish farming business does not entail high cost due to subsidy from governments. The government has established several organisations to conduct key awareness and training programmes for fishers and fish farmers. Different coordination committees help coordinate the functioning of these organisations.

Around 12 institutions come under the following entities:

  • Department of Fisheries
  • Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR)
  • Network for Fish Quality Management & Sustainable Fishing (NETFISH)
  • Marine Product Export Development Authority (MPEDA)
  • Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Aquaculture (RGCA)

Frequently Asked Questions on What is Aquaculture: Meaning, Importance and Benefits

1. What is aquaculture?

It is the cultivation of aquatic organisms under controlled conditions.

Aquaculture is important for meeting food demand, conserving threatened species and promoting economic growth and resource efficiency.

The major disadvantages of aquaculture include the environmental impact of its practices, including polluted water systems. Also, fisheries can develop diseases that adversely impact the local region.

Aquaculture involves rearing aquatic organisms under controlled conditions. In contrast, aquaponics combines rearing aquatic animals in tanks and plant cultivation in water (hydroponics).

Adopting new renewable energy sources can make aquaculture more sustainable.

Akshay Pokharkar
Published By
Akshay Pokharkar
Akshay holds a B.Tech in agriculture engineering from Dr Balasaheb Sawant Konkan Krishi Vidyapeeth. He is an expert in tractors and implements. With over 6 years of experience in the tractor industry, he is known to simplify even the most complex technical things. An avid YouTuber by choice, he is currently working as a Senior Content Manager.
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