The world population is estimated to be 9 billion by 2050. The main concern arising with this rapidly escalating population is meeting the food requirements of the future. And this is where aquaculture comes in. More and more countries are leaning towards aquaculture – the practice of farming fisheries products as a solution to the food dilemma that seems to be inevitable. The global aquaculture market was valued at USD 285,359.7 million in 2019 and it is expected to grow at a steady pace in the coming decade.
Currently, the spotlight of the industry is on sustainable aquaculture practices. According to the World Bank, truly sustainable aquaculture can be achieved only when it encompasses environmental, economic and social and community sustainability. Unfortunately, the Sri Lankan Aquaculture Industry was not consistent with sustainable practices during its inception period in the 1930s. However, with the international dialogue on sustainability gaining precedence, Sri Lanka has kept up with the recent developments and at present, we are vigorously embracing sustainability and best practices. The government and other authorities have come together to ensure that the local aquaculture industry is sustainable, conceptualizing and successfully implementing a range of initiatives geared towards environmental, economic and social sustainability.
Traditional practices of the local aquaculture industry involve wild-catching for the most part and numerous techniques and tools are used in the process. Recently, Sri Lanka has taken a turn towards fish farming, being mindful of the harmful effects that wild-catching has on biodiversity. For instance, shrimp is among the three most widely exported aquaculture products of the country and many projects have been implemented to encourage shrimp farming instead of wild-catching.
Sea cages and land-based installations have been the main focus of many trial projects implemented in several regions. Learning from them, “there is a growing interest to install bigger sea cages with a circumference up to 60 meters in the northeast areas of the island.” All these initiatives aim for environmental sustainability; they intend to preserve the biodiversity of marine and inland water bodies by discouraging wild-catching and promulgating sustainable fish farming.
The Sri Lankan government and other relevant bodies such as the National Aquaculture Development Authority have drafted and passed several acts and policies that regulate the aquaculture practices at the grass-root level. Intended for those who are involved in both small-scale ventures and large-scale conglomerates, these legislations ensure that no environmental pollution occurs in the name of aquaculture. For instance, the first and foremost legislation that concerns aquaculture is the Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Act 1996. It relates to the management, regulation, conservation, and development of fisheries and aquatic resources in Sri Lanka and Part VI of the Act specifically addresses aquaculture.
The Water Resources Board Act concerns “the control, regulation and development (including pollution, conservation, and utilization)” of Sri Lanka's water resources while the Coast Conservation Act 1981 forwards legislation on coastal zone management. The latter instills that permits that allow engaging in aquaculture practices in coastal zones will not be issued unless it is consistent with the Coastal Zone Management Plan and has no nefarious effects on “on the stability, productivity and environmental quality of the coastal zone.” The coast conservation regulations (1982) further outline the criteria to be considered when determining if a permit should be issued. Functioning under such rigid rules and regulations, Sri Lanka aims to emerge as a leading aquaculture industry while also preserving the rich marine biodiversity that the island nation is celebrated for.
In terms of aquaculture, Sri Lanka has a long history of utilizing traditional methods such as still fishing or ‘Ritipanna.’ The way forward is through the fusion of such traditional expertise and modern technology. At the moment, with a strong R&D component as the driving force behind it, Sri Lanka is increasingly introducing new technology to the local aquaculture industry.
For example, Sri Lanka recently welcomed biofloc technology that helps farmers to manage waste and nutrient retention in a highly effective manner. In addition, Sri Lanka has experimented with mitigation measures like real-time environmental alerts in shrimp farms in Chilaw. It is expected that such technological inventions will enhance the quality of products while also promoting economic sustainability.
So far, the problem with the local aquaculture industry has been the lack of knowledge, not the absence of best practices. It has been found that only a small number of local fish farmers were aware of best practices and this seems to be a major hindrance to achieving true sustainability. According to research, one way of addressing this is through the dissemination of knowledge and the Ministry of Fisheries has taken necessary steps in collaboration with other relevant parties in this regard.
For example, two-way links are established among the government, breeders, farm zone managers and academic experts where the government can get feedback from breeders and vice versa. In addition, it is suggested that SMS services can be used as an effective and convenient way to distribute information. Such initiatives aid not only the local aquaculture industry as a whole but also the community at large.
Sri Lanka is walking the extra mile to secure a future where sustainable aquaculture is no longer a dream. Manifold initiatives and projects are being carried out at the moment and, as a country, we will continue to march towards this shared goal of a truly and fully sustainable future. With the dedication of those who are involved, it is safe to say that this dream will not remain unrealized for long.