Dr. S.L. Marbaniang:
The local indigenous tribal population of the State, which comprises more than 80 percent, are mostly meat-eaters. This is a custom followed and imitated from their parents and grandparents. Up till now, the tribals will consider the menu to be incomplete, if meat is totally absent from their plate.
This practice is inherent from the old days in which forests were dense and various types of animals and cattle abounded. Being expert hunters with their bows and arrows, so meat was available in plenty. Subsequently, when they came into contact with other people who lived at the foothills in the plains areas, they began to adopt the habit of eating fish and other aquatic creatures. Gradually, they developed taste to the marine life.
Fishes are vertebrates like human beings, that is, they too have backbone like us. However, there are other animals, called fish, but in the true sense of the term they are not all fish. Shellfish, starfish and cuttle-fish are not fish since they do not have any backbones. They belong to the family of invertebrates. Whales and porpoises too are not fish either, these are the mammals which suckle the young. They have adapted their life in the sea. Nevertheless, they cannot stay long inside the water. They have to come out up to the surface to breathe air.
Scientists have been able to identify more than 20,000 species of fishes. They are found in the river bodies all over the world, from the coldest region to the hottest places on the planet. Depending on the type of water-bodies that abound, so also the characteristics of the fishes. If the water contains large quantity of salt like in the sea and ocean, then they care classified as salt water fishes. Most of the water-bodies in the hills and mountains are clear and pollution-free, besides being very fresh. So the fishes in these types of streams and rives are mostly fresh water varieties.
In spite of fishes being highly consumed by human beings and other creatures including animals and birds, yet they increase at very high rate. To understand the situation, one has to simply calculate the billions of eggs spawned by a fish during the spawning season. Therefore, the huge numbers of these marine lives cannot be easily comprehended. Clearly then, it is beyond imagination to rightly guess how many billions of fishes live in the seas, lakes, river, pool and streams , including muddy and marsh lands. If it were not so, they would have become extinct long time back, taking consideration the huge amount of fishes being consumed daily.
The fish that is harvested is a rich source of protein in food-consumption. Fish meal and oils of various types are derived from these aquatic animals. Among the countries of the world, Japan consumes a large amount of fish. Besides, their activities are beyond description since the country dies not have much natural resources. Excess fishes caught are treated, canned which are exported outside their country.
The people of Meghalaya, including the majority tribal population are great fish-eaters. The State does not produce enough fish. Consequently, a large quantity of fish is imported from outside - Assam, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh. Most of the fish produced in the State is fresh-water variety. But those brought from outside are salt-water species. Hence the State has to incur heavy expenditure on import.
Moreover, aquaculture which is a new avenue of employment will be a grater opening for those who are educated, unemployed and willing to accept it as a challenge to them. In this connection, the fisheries Department, Government of Meghalaya organized a very commendable workshop on Thursday June 30. In tandem with the local situation, stress was laid on inland fisheries.
The Chief Minister, Dr. Mukul Sangma told, during the occasion, that the Government will make substantial investment in the Fishery Sector in the State. Thus, he anticipated that the overall economy in Meghalaya will greatly improve. Moreover, aquaculture will provide substantial livelihood to the poor and the marginalized sections of the rural society.
On the part of the State Government, the Chief Minister informed that the Aquaculture Mission for the State will be adopted. In this regard, he was solicited suggestions and opinions from all segments of the population. Hopefully, the Scheme will be implemented from April next year.
Under the Special Planning Assistance, the Government of Meghalaya has sanctioned more than Rupees thirty seven crores for the year 2010-11. The National Fisheries Development board (NDFB) is actively involved to make the project a success.
Because of latest development in science and technology, many advanced countries of the world like Japan, the U.K the U.S.A, Canada and other European countries are using sophisticated machineries to hunt and catch fishes from the oceans and seas. As a consequence, overfishing takes place which poses a danger to the marine life. Most such activities take place in the Northern Hemisphere.
Cod and herring are heavily fished in the countries of North Atlantic like Iceland, the U.K, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Holland, Germany, and Canada. Salmon fish and tuna abound in the western coast of the U.S., Mexico up to the northern region of British Columbia and Alaska. In the Pacific Ocean, the Russian Federation, China and Japan are heavy exploiters. In the Southern Hemisphere South Africa, Australia and New Zealand catch a large proportion of fish.
During the last 20 years, the world fish catch has increased almost by 300 percent. This has caused an alarm in many nations of the world. Overfishing and rampant destruction of marine life to obtain the medicine and oils have been responsible for the decimation of many fish species. Accordingly, Commissions were formed to control fishing, like the International Whaling Commission (IWC), the International Commission for Northwest Atlantic Fisheries (ICNAF), the Inter American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) and the Indo-Pacific Fisheries council (IPFC).
Another system to curtail random fishing by different nations has emerged. Firstly, the size of fishes is of prime importance. Secondly, territorial fishing rights have been spelled out. Normally, the traditional norm accepted is three miles from the sea shore, calculated in time of low spring tide. In recent years, the fishing limits by nations have been revised to extend beyond the three miles range. Even then conflicts between fishermen of neighbouring countries frequent occur.
Fish farming to supplement the need for proteins by human population has been an increasing activity in different countries if the world. Scientists who have keenly observed the fish habitats have come out with new and interesting fact. If the farms are carefully planned and cleaned, free of weeds and pests, they will fetch better quality of fish and at higher quantity too. The food to be fed to the fish, the control of disease, and the variety of breeds to be reared are very important. For example, in Japan fishes are fed silkworms.
During the last few years, private entrepreneurs have made significant contribution to fish production in the State. This is quite an encouraging note. However, much more ought to be done in order to narrow the gap between consumption and production.
The destructive habit by miscreants to poison the whole lakes or rivers in order to get a few tonnes of fish is a criminal act. This is a deplorable and inhuman act which deserves stringent punishment. Nevertheless, co-ordination between Government authorities and stakeholders will surely result in bright prospective in future.