Manipur state is nestled in the easternmost corner of Northeast India, covering a total area of 23,327 sq km with suitable climate and soil condition for crop farming.
Agriculture forms the backbone of the state’s economy, contributing 50-60 per cent to the state’s GDP and engaging about 80 per cent of the state's total population.
The climatic condition is widely influenced by the topography of the hilly regions and hence ranges from tropical to sub-alpine with average annual rainfall of 1467mm.
Around 80 per cent of the total state populations are non-vegetarian and the food items includes chicken, fish, beef, mutton, pork, etc.
Fish is, however, the only animal protein source widely accepted and consumed by almost all the people including the vegetarian sect of the people.
Manipur has diversified water bodies with 56,461.05 hectares suitable for fish farming of which only 18,600 hectares or 32.94 per cent of the total potential water areas are so far developed and used for fishery purposes.
With the Barak River as the biggest river basin, the state has more than 15 meandering rivers, covering a length of 2000 km. Each of the river systems has characteristic ecological conditions and a diverse fish population.
The water-logged marshy and swampy areas, canals and wetlands of the state covered about 5,000 hectares( Economic Survey of Manipur-2008-09).
The state is also home to the largest fresh water lake in Northeast India—the Loktak Lake, covering an area of 24,672 hectares. It is the most important inland water resource of the state with floating mat vegetation (basically called Phum).
Fishing and other fishery activities carried out in and around the lake accounts for about 50 per cent of the total fish production of the state.
The state has around 153 floodplains wetlands (locally called Pat) accounting for 28.34 per cent of the total valley area.
The Loktak Lake and Pats support a huge fisher flock’s livelihood. Being an agrarian state, Manipur has a huge area covered by paddy fields especially in the valley districts. Keeping fish along with the paddy has been in practice since ages ago.
As though there is no systematic method followed, integration of fish–cum paddy with fish as the secondary crop has been considered as one of the best alternatives for ensuring the diversity of the food basket without compromising on the sociological and environmental functions of the fields.
Manipur shares a part of the Indo-Burma biodiversity hotspot and is immensely endowed with diverse biological resources.
The state fish faunal diversity has been seen to be influenced by the Burmese fish faunas which has been clearly highlighted by the presence of many indigenous fish species in Manipur and Myanmar (Burma) water but not found in any parts of India.
The number of fish species found in Manipur was reported to be 125. Pengba, which is also a state fish of Manipur, was found abundantly in the water bodies of Loktak Lake and Nambul River. However with the construction of the Ithai barrage across Manipur River for the operation of Loktak Hydro Electric Project, the fish population declined drastically.
The water bodies of Manipur are diverse and harbour various aquatic grasses. Hence grass carp and common carp are the mainstay carp species in the extensive aqua system. The fox fruit (locally called Thangjing) which is a delicacy in the state is widely cultured by many farmers in homestead ponds. Most of the aquatic plants are highly marketable for their flowers, roots, rhizomes and stems, fruits and seeds for various purposes, including medicinal use.
Fisheries have been playing an integral role in Manipuri society as fish forms a part and parcel of every Manipuri dish served on the table. Fish has thus been considered one of the most widely accepted food items in the state. It is consumed by almost all people irrespective of age, culture, religion and food habits, including the vegetarian sect of people.
Watch: First Emoinu Fish Festival 2023: Promoting Indigenous Fish Farming | Imphal Free Press
Fishes of all sizes and varieties are found in the market in the form of live and fresh, frozen, dried, smoked, canned and fermented and consumed as curry, boiled, fried or chutney.
Fish plays a major role in many customary and religious rituals of the Manipuri such as traditional use of fresh Nganap and Catfish in the marriage rituals, Ngamu in healing rites, Ngamu and Phabounga in rituals conducted for newborns.
Being one of the most commonly accepted food items, fish is generally used to serve in most of the common feast. The pool barb has been widely consumed by the Manipuri’s in fermented form (locally called Ngari). Due to its flavour and nutritive value, Ngari has become an irreplaceable and inseparable ingredient of almost all Manipuri dishes such as Kangsoi, Iromba, Ametpa, Singju etc.
The current fish production of the Manipur state is 30,500 metric tons against the requirement of 40,000 metric tons. As the state fish production could not meet the consumers' demand, Manipur imports various forms of fish (frozen. Dried, smoked, canned) from other states like Assam, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, etc. Canned or tinned fish widely consumed in the state are imported from Myanmar. The price of fish and fishery products in the state are thus very high.
Fish culture or blue revolution in Manipur was believed to have started since paddy culture began fish-cum paddy culture in the paddy fields traditionally with the fish as the secondary crop. With the increase of demand for fish for food, slowly fish culture in separate ponds began and later improved with better culture practices and technologies.
Fish farming practices in the state is more or less pond-based with several species stocked in the same pond (Poly-culture) or integrated with agro/animal husbandry taking advantage of the rich aquatic microorganism and aquatic floras of the water.
Monoculture practices are rarely seen or reported. Aquaculture methods in the state are mostly traditional especially in the hilly regions though few semi-intensive and intensive systems are being taken up in the valleys.
Integration of fish with horticulture, agriculture crops and livestock has been a traditional practice in Manipur over the centuries. The present estimated per hectare production of fish in the state is 700-1800 kg/ha/year.
There are 123 fishing villages in the state with 34,064 fishermen out of which 8,395 fishermen are full time fishers.
The fishermen of the state are mostly concentrated in and around Loktak Lake in Moirang. Around 55 rural and urban hamlets encircled the water bodies and the lake, thus has a population of about 1,00,000 people harbouring the majority of the state's total fishermen in and around it.
Marketing of fish is one of the biggest businesses in the state because the state consumes a huge amount of fish.
Although there is a huge demand for the fish in the state, state farmers and fishers face many constraints and issues in fish production.
Some of the constraints are: technical constraints; financial constraints; social constraints; environmental problems and other issues. The water resources of the state have a potential of producing around 64,000 metric tons of fish annually with multiple water bodies not utilized/ poorly utilized or sparsely stocked.
However, fish worth around Rs 3,33.65,760 were sold during the 44th Fish Fair cum Fish Crop competition 2022 which was held in connection with Ningol Chakkouba Festival. It was one of the biggest achievements of the Fishery department.
A total of 1, 27,727 kg fish was produced during the fair. For the first time ever, over 3000 kg of locally produced fresh Sareng was made available in the fair.
The first-ever Emoinu Fish Festival 2023 was held at Hapta Kangjeibung on January 3, 2023. A total of 51,362 kg of fish was sold at the festival. It included production of 2600kg Meitei Sareng. Bishnupur district contributed 17,709 kg; Imphal West-14218 kg and Thoubal district 9009 kg in the festival.
To make Manipur a self-sufficient state in fish production, the various underutilized water bodies’ needs to be judiciously explored and utilized sustainably. Cultivation of fish has managed to increase the production of the indigenous fish like Pengba from being endangered.
Proper stocking strategy with diverse fast growing fish species, upgradation of quality fish seed production for natural water bodies’ management and development will enhance the fish basket of the state.
The state should take strong steps in conserving the native fish species which are threatened in their natural system. Judiciously harnessing the untapped and potential resources using modern technologies will not only bridge the demand-supply gap of the state but also produce surplus that can be supplied to the neighbouring states too, which will directly or indirectly uplift the livelihood of many resources dependant fishers, exalt employment and income generation and elevate nutritional security of the people.
(The views expressed are personal)