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For a bite of fresh Sareng

IFP Editorial: This Ningol Chakkouba, the state government must take into consideration that Manipuris are very choosy in terms of the kind of fish they like to eat.

ByIFP Bureau

Updated 13 Sept 2022, 9:43 am

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A few days ago, the state Director of Fisheries made a very important announcement that this Ningol Chakkouba Manipuris would be able to taste fresh Sareng.

Ningol Chakkouba is one the biggest festivals of Manipur and it falls on October 27 this year, the second day of Hiyanggei.

Last year, one of the special attractions of the annual fish fair was the display of Sareng indigenously bred in Manipur with fingerlings brought from outside.

As Sareng is a special delicacy widely preferred in Manipur especially in the valley, the State Government had launched Manipur Sareng Project in July last year with an objective to make fresh Sareng available to the people of the State.

Last year, fresh Sareng weighing around 1 kg was on display. On most occasions, SarengThongba items have been replaced by Grass Carp mixed sometimes with Ngahei. What we know as Meitei Sareng breeds and flourishes mostly in the state’s riverine systems. So, it is open to interpretation whether this Sareng variety bred in local fish farms could be called Meitei Sareng or not.

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One thing is sure, though locally produced in fish farms it will never taste like the Meitei Sareng of yore. The real Meitei Sareng sometimes caught from the rivers is available occasionally, but the size is small and the price very high. One buys it out of necessity for ritual events or if one can afford it.

Rich families used to buy it and mix it with imported Sareng during feasts including NingolChakkouba. And it takes a master to cook Sareng properly to be able to bring out its real flavour. In the hierarchy of Manipuri Pujaris, the head Pujari always takes charge of cooking Sareng while his assistants attend to other dishes.

For so many years, Manipuris had grown accustomed to ice-packed Sareng imported from outside the state. And who knows what preservatives are used to keep them in semi-fresh condition. During the summer days, the imported Sareng began to smell and many avoid it during feasts or at homes. Yet, imported Sareng is brought in from outside in truckloads to the state along with Rohu and other fish varieties to bridge the gap between demand and supply for fish.

A year ago, the annual production of fish in the state was 32,000 metric tons and now it has increased to 36,000 metric tons while on the other hand the annual requirement of fish was 52,000 metric tons last year.

N Biren Singh had promised self-sufficiency in fish production by 2020 in June 2018 but it is still a target yet to be achieved. In his push for increasing production, the Chief Minister ordered reclaiming of vast stretches of swamps around the Loktak Lake for different forms of captive breeding of fish through the State Livelihood Mission and also opening of fish feed factories to cater to the needs of fish farmers of the state, who have had to buy feed brought from outside the state at a higher price.

Whether the Chief Minister had been able to fulfil his promise of self-sufficiency in fish production or not is another matter. What matters is his endeavour to upscale fish production in the state, where fish is a staple diet. Project Sareng was also one of his pet projects. To reduce the import of the fish from outside the state, rearing of Sareng had started and has been increasing under the guidance and support from the department of fisheries, while the state government had also committed 50 per cent subsidy while rearing Sareng according to the fish production.

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The state government must also take into consideration that Manipuris are also very choosy in terms of the kind of fish they like to eat. It was not by choice that they are now eating the Indian carps, whether imported or locally produced, but because indigenous fish varieties have become extremely scarce. Indigenous varieties like Pengba, Ngaton and Khabak have completely disappeared from the riverine system of Manipur and Loktak Lake.

Of course, some entrepreneurs have started captive breeding of these delicacies in fish farms and it is reaching the market during Cheiraoba or Ningol Chakkouba festivals.

As many as 16 species of indigenous fish are believed to have become extinct due to the blocking of water by the Ithai barrage. For example, Pengba is the state fish of Manipur and is reported to be regionally extinct in the wild due to obstruction of its migratory route from Myanmar on account of the Ithai barrage.

—Editorial

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Ningol Chakkoubafish productionsareng

IFP Bureau

IFP Bureau

IMPHAL, Manipur

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