Ornamental live fish exports –National Priority Needed

Ornamental live fish exports –National Priority Needed

The notable feature of our exports during the last few years was the decline in exports, an ominous signal to the economy. The reason behind this decrease was the local and foreign market factors such as high cost of production, lack of strategic strength, non-preference by Western countries and economic crises in the occidental world.

Major products manufactured in Sri Lanka which took take the precedent role in its contribution to the export trade also shown decline trend. Under this situation, the export of fresh and marine water ornamental fish have significantly maintained export strength except 2012 and now showing nearly 20 % increase of its export in 2013 up to August compare to the previous year.

Contribution of fresh water and marine water ornamental fish to the total export comes to nearly 0.4 %. Even if the percentage seems to be small, it carries a continuous share of its contribution to the national development. It is much importance looking into this sector in positive manner to take to priority area of exports as Sri Lanka rich with resources related these products.

Ornamental fish keeping is one of the most popular hobbies in the world today. Some people believes that looking in to the these fishes moving in tanks gets mental relaxation and it is an ideal tool for mediation. Even scientist believes the hobbies collection and looking in to the fish get reduction from stress and frustration. The keeping of fish as pet is not harmful to human health like other pets.

The hobbies of keeping of colorful fish in tanks has been going back to long history. The first such fish keeping fish is Gold Fish( Carassius auratus). According to historian says it was popular in China and first historical records of kept goes back to Ming Dynasty in China.( (1368–1644).

But all Sri Lankan should proud that during King Dutugamunu (161 BC to 137 BC) Sri Lanka kept gold fish as hobby. Archeologists discovered the gold fish park or Ranmasu Uyana which is located below the bund (dam) of the 'Tisawewa' tank in Anuradhapura. It is considered to be the royal park / pleasure gardens with granite ponds. It is interesting to note that in an inscription it is stated that, somewhere in this park, had been a pond with 'Goldfish'. The Vessagiriya inscription of King of 4th Mihindu has been mentioned this garden as Gold Fish Park. This proves that Sri Lanka is the first country keeping ornamental fish as hobby.

Ornamental fish developed as an industry with development of aviation industry. It made a path to become a global trade. With the development of new technologies in modern world such as development of aquaculture technology, water management systems, better understanding of nutrition and aquatic disease management and many other branches of animal husbandry sciences have supported to develop this industry as global industry.

Today this industry has became global item with nearly US$ half billion trade. The Asian countries maintained the large number of supply to the world. Singapore maintains as largest exporter of ornamental fish and recently Spain came to first place. Over hundred thousand varieties of Ornamental fish moving around the world. USA , EU Japan are the leading buyers.

Ornamental fish industry of Sri Lanka originated with the establishment of the Zoological Gardens in early 1940s. A few industrialists were involved in breeding fish before, but not on commercial basis. Of the few reputed personalities who encouraged divers on collection of marine fish as a hobby was Sir John Kotelawala. However the first public Aquarium was established in 1952. During a period of 60 years the industry became commercialized with the celebration of 50 year anniversary by some companies like, Lumbini Aquarium, Aquamarines International Private Limited.

Today nearly 50 leading companies export about thousand varieties of fresh and marine water ornamental fish to over 50 countries. Leading exporters on large scale business of aquariums located in Colombo suburban areas and Negombo region have started moving to Mahaveli and dry zone rural areas. Prevalent peaceful environment in the North and East has caused the expansion of the industry into tropical climatic locations in the island.

Sri Lanka exports over a thousand varieties of Ornamental fish to the tune of Rs 1,400 Mn around 40 countries world over. It is nearly 1.2% of the total world exports.

Sri Lanka Exports of Ornamental fish in US Dollars

Year
2008
2009
2010
2011
2012
2013Jan- July
Value
8,981,333
8,523,277
10,076,839
10,053,137
7,573,518
5,816,816

This industry has high expansion of potential available with an abundance of natural resources. Unbelievably charming fish of various kinds never seen before could be captured in plenty around Sri Lanka, island of the Indian Ocean. Availability of professional divers who routinely maintain the supply of marine fish is a remarkable advantage towards development of the industry.

Recent records indicate that nearly 120 species have been registered from inland water. Rivers, Reservoirs and Lakes with fresh water provide natural environment for sustenance of fresh fish. This has encouraged the government to promote production of fresh fish in central province. Sri Lanka has 82 species of indigenous fresh water fish out of which 54 species have been approved for export.

As the varieties of Fresh Water Ornamental Fish are limited, the industry has been concentrating mainly on marine water ornamental fish from the beginning as there was a vast area found in the ocean. Today Marine live fish leads by 75% of its ornamental fish exports.

However, restrictions on the import of ocean fish have been enforced by the occidental nations of the world causing a difficult situation for trade of marine fish. Fortunately, Sri Lankan breeders, particularly of younger generation, have braved the challenges with innovative and alternative measures taken to buttress the situation.

The new generation involved in breeding ornamental fish for export is qualified in professional education directly related to fish industry. Some of them have mastered marine biology degrees from world reputed Universities and utilized their know how for new innovation with high security measures adopted for the Ocean. The striking example is the introduction of new varieties of sea horse by companies like Aquamarines International (Pvt) Ltd. In early 2000, steps were taken to breed a variety of sea horse fish under the technical name Hippocampus Reidi netted from Brazilian sea exported with great success. Later the new varieties of Hippocampus ( Sea Horse ) Hippocampus Comes, Hippocampus Trimaulatues Hippocampus Kudda sea horse fish were captured from sea and effectively bred. In addition to varieties of shrimps like Fire Shrimp and Cleaner shrimp also introduced. Today the export of new varieties of fish has earned the highest export value. The objective of these researches was mainly to secure the environment. The cost of this marine fish is seven times higher than the fish captured from the ocean. Despite the high price of fish, the hobbyists have no qualms in purchasing as this system gives protection to these attractive fish as well as the environment.

Varieties of new products of artificial rocks and possibility of coral farming were introduced on experimental basis by Aqua Marine International (Pvt) Ltd opening the opportunity of a new venture to be developed to a lucrative business. Apparently, building ornamental fish villages in Sri Lanka has been proposed. Hopefully the new experiment may help develop the industry!

It is imperative for the government to give its priority to improve the industry with the support of the government. Ornamental fish is usually brought up moving with corals and live stock etc. Today experiments are being launched on upgrading the coral farming projects in Sri Lanka more effectively.

The most nations have volunteered to help develop the Coral Farming Project in their countries as a protective measure for corals in the Ocean and it will be a commercially viable industry. In appreciation of the effort taken by the companies to expand the industry with coral farming projects, it is the responsibility of the government to grant necessary approval sought by the companies without any delays in support of its endeavor of developing the industry.

As a result of experiments made already, chances are possible that export of artificial rocks in commercial scale will be launched in the near future. Tax rates will be considerably high despite this being a small scale business venture. So it is the onus of the exporters to stress the demand for tax concession in their effort to elevate the development of artificial rock industry.

As a school of thought it is suggested to open aquarium parks in the city that would make the people mentally relaxed. It is important that the government look in to the possibilities to link with its urban development activities of the government.

Another predominant factor is the high rise in electricity charges. It is suggested to address this issue with equal facilities enjoyed by other commercial organization to be extended to this industry as well.

Potential for marine fish industry in Northern waters post-war has become highly optimistic by the increasing trend of fishing in the region. The environment is so peaceful for fishermen to be engaged in their job quite freely sans threat of terrorism. If opportunity is given, the divers in the South skilled with professional expertise are willing to train Northern divers as a gesture of reconciliatory goodwill. It is the virtue of necessity on the part of the government to play the major role in taking all essential measures to have suitable protection to divers in the Northern and Eastern waters.

It lends credence to the breeders whose ventures have taken protective measures of nurturing endemic species evidently justified by the discovery of new varieties of species. Daino Pathirana discovered by Ananda Pathirana is a case in point.

Chairman of Aquamarines International (Pvt) Ltd Ananda Pathirana and Director Yohan Pathirana by their research in 2001 in Kegol and Nuckels successfully collected 8 specimens in an effort to checkmate the disappearance of this rare species. Braving a difficult challenge, breeding in large quantity of fish was begun encouraging the release of 2000 and 2500 with participation of local community and the blessings of the Department of Wild Life. The entire nation salutes them in appreciation of this excellent service.

Today the breeders are effectively utilizing advanced technology for development of the industry with no harm whatsoever to the environment. Most importantly, capture of rare varieties of marine fish from around the world and breeding them with new scientific resources methodically should be encouraged. Culturing aquarium plants in aquariums is currently in the experimental stage. New technical know-how being applied to secure the longevity of fish and new packaging techniques to reduce the weight has showcased a vast progress.

Support extended by Sri Lanka Export Development Board ( EDB) and NARA to uplift the industry is encouraging. The service rendered by the officials who assigned for the development of the industry from NARA and EDB in close communication with the exporters has gained high recognition. As proposed by the President Mahinda Rajapaksa in his budget speeches, that the implementation financial grant program to develop innovation on fresh and marine ornamental fish industry by the Sri Lanka Export Development Board with the various bureaucratic barriers is commendable.