Getting together: Community based fish culture

By neglecting the village common water resource, fishermen in Malliyabad had lost a livelihood opportunity. By getting organised into user groups and practising community-based fish culture, the local communities have not only benefitted individually, but have also contributed towards the maintenance of common property resource of the village.

Somasamudra, is a minor irrigation tank in Malliyabad village in Raichur district in Karnataka State. Around 33 families who do not own land depend on fishing in Somasamudra tank for their livelihoods. The tank spreads over an area of 45 hectares, with an effective water spread area of 22.5 hectares. The tank retains water for about 8-9 months. The command area of the tank is 74.45 hectares and catchment area is 12.12

Communities have been getting their fishing rights by way of auctions. The fishing lease is generally given for a period of one year. The tanks are stocked with relatively very small fingerlings (1.0 to 1.25 inches). The survival rate is also very low – about 5 to 10% owing to predation by other fishes, insects, frogs, snakes and birds.

The tank with silt accumulation is covered with lot of aquatic weeds. Though the fishermen are formed into Malliyabad Fishermen Co-operative Society, yet the fishing activity is largely managed by private contractors, making fishing less remunerative. Also there is a lot of interference by middlemen in obtaining fishing rights, harvesting and marketing fish. Landless have no ‘stakes’ in fisheries activity except for having an opportunity for wage labour.

In such a context, Jala Samvardhane Yojana Sangha (JSYS), a project by the Government of Karnataka, chose Somasamudra tank for developing and promoting community based fish culture. Karnataka Community Based Tank Management Project (KCBTMP) under JSYS, funded by the World Bank was the first project in the country to take up tank rehabilitation through community participation. The project aimed to rehabilitate 3925 tanks in 95 taluks in 18 districts of the state with local communities as major stake holders.

The objective of the project was to improve rural livelihoods and reduce poverty by developing and strengthening community based approaches to improving and managing selected tank systems. The objective of promoting fisheries was to provide opportunity for income generation for the local tank communities who have little or no access to land in tank command areas.

The project

With better tank management, the fish yield increased by three times.

Initially, the project staff created awareness on the growing needs of water and the importance of maintaining tanks for meeting all the water needs of communities. They discussed the various interventions taken by the project in the neighbouring districts like tank desiltation, creation of dead storage area, tank renovation and shared its impact on fisheries, forestry and agriculture. Understanding the benefits of maintaining the tank systems, the village communities showed interest in getting involved in the programme.

All the 120 members of the fishermen community organised themselves into Tank Users Group (TUG). The members of the Malliyabad Fishermen Co-operative Society which was formed earlier were co-opted as members of Malliyabad Raitharakere Abhivrudhi Sangha (TUG).

The Tank Users Group is a registered society. All the families in the village, the gram panchayat members, members of fishermen societies, yuvaka sanghas and SHGs became members. The Grama Sabha elects the office bearers of the society.

TUGs are responsible for the operation and maintenance of the tanks and collection of revenues like water tax, fisheries royalty etc. The TUG have a Tank Development Fund (TDF) Account in the Grameena Bank in which income from fisheries is deposited. All the activities pertaining to the society and the fish production is recorded in the proceedings book.

The project extended both technical and monetary support to the members. Firstly, the capacities of the fishermen were strengthened by way of trainings. Members were provided financial support for obtaining fishing rights, procure advanced fish fingerlings, and for buying harvesting inputs like nets. Besides, the members were also provided the technical, marketing and legal support as required.

The process

The fishing lease rights for tanks was obtained from Fisheries Department, by paying a lease rent of Rs.150 per hectare. Then the tank was prepared by application of lime, followed by organic manuring. The group successfully completed tank renovation at a cost of Rs.13,87,000. Weeds from the tank were removed.

A dead storage (Fish Pond) was created with a depth of 1.25 meters. Around 1,35,000 advanced fish fingerlings of Indian Major Carps : Catla (60%), Rohu (20%) and Common Carps (20%) of 2.0, 2.5 & 3.0 inches in size respectively, were stocked in the tank. The stocking density was maintained at 3000 per ha. This was done during the monsoon season (July to September). Watch and ward was kept to avoid poaching.

After 5 ½ months, partial harvesting was done and after 6 months, final harvesting was done. The fish harvesters were paid labour charges of Rs.4-5 per kilogram of fish harvested. Marketing was taken care by women.


With water being available in the tank for eight months a year and without any supplementary feeding to the fish, the fish yield obtained was 533 kgs per hectare. This is thrice the yields obtained earlier. The net revenue from the fish production was approximately Rs.2,70,000/-.

Out of the revenue generated from fisheries – 50% was divided among the beneficiaries (fishermen, landless small marginal farmers) and 50% went to Tank Users Group. The Gramasabha of Malliyabad decided to utilize the revenue for renewal of fishing lease rights and organisation of the next fish crop and for the general development of the village.

Besides fishermen, other vulnerable groups of the community like the landless, poor farmers, women and youth also benefitted from the programme. Around 70 women got employment for 5 months – through selling of fish. Besides, women were also involved in stocking and harvesting of fish. Fish culture, has certainly created sustainable livelihoods for the poor, especially the rural women in Malliyabad.

The author expresses gratitude to former Executive Director of JSYS, Mr. Punati Sridhar, IFS, Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Forest conservation), Bangalore and to Mr. K.S.Sai Baba, IFS, Executive Director, Karnataka Jala Samvardhane Yojana Sangha, Bangalore for their encouragement and co-operation in carrying out inland fisheries development work in the community tanks.

Rajkumar Pujari

Fisheries Specialist,
Jala Samvardhane Yojana Sangha,
Dept. of Water Resources (Minor Irrigation),
Government of Karnataka, No.42, 5th Cross, R.M.V. Extension, Sadashivnagar, Bengaluru – 560 080.

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