Under the Mangroves for the Future coastal management programme, the Sri Lanka Country Office of IUCN, International Union for Conservation of Nature is implementing a project on post-tsunami ecosystem restoration in the Ampara District with financial assistance of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).
The project activities are mainly in the Tirukkovil area, and are concentrated around the Periyakalapu and Palakudah lagoons. While the project will contribute towards the ongoing overall post-tsunami rehabilitation programme of the Government of Sri Lanka, it will specifically assist in the restoration of ecosystems and livelihoods in Thirukkovil affected by the tsunami in an effort to move the communities beyond their pre-tsunami level of poverty.
Periyakalapu and Palakudah lagoons are important water bodies in the project area. There are, however no proper fisheries management mechanisms in place. Hence, the productivity of these lagoons have decreased overtime mainly due to use of destructive fishing practices, human induced biophysical changes such as intrusion of sea water and most recently due to tsunami impacts. Fishermen have only limited options other than engaging in lagoon fishing. Therefore, in line with project objective of improving livelihoods of the lagoons fishermen, a pilot project on cage culture of fish in Palakudah lagoon was introduced to selected lagoon fishermen.
The species selected for the pilot study on cage culture was sea bass (Lates calcarifer) which is naturally found in the selected lagoon and is in demand, both locally and for export. Cage culture is of particular importance as they float on water without hampering the hydrodynamics of the lagoon. The cage culture programme was initiated as a partnership between the fishing communities belonging to the Koraikalappu Lake Fishermen Co-operative Society and a private aquaculture company – Aqua Hatcheries Private Ltd. The role of the private company is to transfer cage culture technical know-how to local people and provide them with a market for cultured fish. IUCN, International Union for Conservation of Nature, Sri Lanka Office conceptualised idea and coordinated the implementation with other partners including the mandated national agency, the National Aquaculture Development Authority.
The cage culture operations of Palakudah Lagoon were initiated in April 2008. As the first step, six members of the Koraikalappu Lake Fishermen Co-operative Society were selected and each beneficiary was assigned a cage unit comprised of four 10m x10m x 2m cages. Each beneficiary worked with an assistant, thus bringing the total number of direct beneficiaries to 12.
During past 7-8 months selected beneficiaries worked closely with project staff and the private company and learned how to culture fish in cages. This fish has delicately-flavored flesh, has an export demand in various parts of the world, and thus fetch high market prices. One of the objectives of the pilot project is to assess the technical feasibility of culturing sea bass in Palakudah lagoon with participation of local people. With the income from the cage cultured fish, fishing pressure on the lagoon will be reduced.
The first batch of cultured fish was harvested on 9 January 2009. The beneficiaries received sums ranging from Rs 10,320.00 to 22,250.00 for the fish that they sold to the private company. A part of the income will be for the welfare of the Society. A simple ceremony was held at the Society’s office to mark the harvest, and Mr Parasuraman, the President expressed the Society’s delight in getting this income for its members, particularly with the impending Thai Pongal festival.
Based on the technical feasibility proven by the pilot project IUCN Sri Lanka will continue to work with the private company to support additional 16 cages within the project period. The private company is likely to expand the operations through a loan scheme so that pressure on the lagoon can be reduced while improving the livelihoods of the lagoon dependant communities. This will also demonstrate the sustainability of cage culture as an ongoing livelihood activity for the communities living around the Palakudah lagoon.