Research Article

Composite Fish Farming in West Bengal, India: Redesigning Management Practices during the Course of Last Five Decades  

Banasree Biswas1 , S.K. Das1 , Ipsita Mondal2 , Amit Mandal3
1 Department of Aquaculture, Faculty of Fishery Sciences, West Bengal University of Animal and Fishery Sciences, Chakgaria, Kolkata, West Bengal, India
2 Fishery Extension Office, Raghunathpur-1 Block, Purulia, West Bengal, India
3 Department of Aquaculture, College of Fisheries, Guru Angad Dev Veterinary and Animal Sciences University, Ludhiana, Punjab, India
Author    Correspondence author
International Journal of Aquaculture, 2018, Vol. 8, No. 12   doi: 10.5376/ija.2018.08.0012
Received: 13 Apr., 2018    Accepted: 04 May, 2018    Published: 11 May, 2018
© 2018 BioPublisher Publishing Platform
This is an open access article published under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Preferred citation for this article:

Biswas B., Das S.K., Mondal I., and Mandal A., 2018, Composite fish farming in West Bengal, India: redesigning management practices during the course of last five decades, International Journal of Aquaculture, 8(12): 90-97 (doi: 10.5376/ija.2018.08.0012)


Composite carp farming is a poly-species pond culture system in which three Indian major carps (IMC) (Labeo catla, Labeo rohita and Cirrhinus mrigala) are co-stocked with three exotic major carps (Hypophthalmicthys molitrix, Ctenopharyngodon idella and Cyprinus carpio). This system is a practical modification of the original three species IMC polyculture so as to fill the vacant niches in a pond ecosystem for optimizing internal resource utilization and thereby a means of increasing productivity. Such system was officially introduced during 1971 with standard management protocols and established as the mainstay in inland aquaculture practice in India. During the course of almost half a century, several alterations in every stages of management of composite carp culture have been made by the farmers solely guided by their experiences and acquired expertise through the ages which are proved economical. The present review discussed the alterations made by the farmers in composite farming based upon the findings recorded in two purposively selected districts (East Burdwan and 24 Pgs. (N) in West Bengal, India as the state is one of the highest producers of carps in the country.

Composite farming; India; Management; Redesigning


India is a major producer of fish through aquaculture (Goswami and Zade, 2015) and ranks second in the world in inland fish production which increased from 0.7 million tonnes in 1951 to 10.79 million tonnes in 2015-16 (DAHDF, 2017) where, aquaculture contributed 78% of the country's total fish production. Until the nineteenth century, carp culture was dependent upon the wild riverine seed and farming was confined to backyard ponds in the eastern Indian states of West Bengal, Odisha and Bihar. In 1957, hatchery and hypophysation breeding techniques of Indian major carps (IMC) were developed which ultimately triggered the growth of inland aquaculture sector of the country. Though availability of hatchery bred seed was secured, farming of major carps continued principally as IMC polyculture usually in three or four species combinations incorporating minor carps also. Between 1963 and 1984, successful demonstration of polyculture systems based on Indian and exotic carps by the Central Inland Fisheries Research Institute (CIFRI), Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) in West Bengal and a successful demonstration programme by the Fish Farmers Development Agencies (FFDAs) resulted in the commercialization of IMC polyculture with the introduced exotics from neighbouring China (Jhingran, 1991).


1 Composite Fish Farming

India is known as the carp culture country (Dhawan and Kaur, 2005) where the terminology as carp polyculture has been changed to composite carp culture during the seventies when co-stocking of compatible exotic carps with IMCs has been demonstrated and gradually popularized as a high-yielding polyculture production system among the Indian fish farmers (Sinha, 1985). Composite fish culture aims at fuller utilization of ecological niches by culturing together fast growing six compatible species (3 Indian major carps; catla: Labeo catla, rohu: Labeo rohita, mrigal: Cirrhinus mrigala and 3 exotic carps; grass carp: Hypophthalmicthys molitrix, silver carp: Ctenopharyngodon idella, common carp: Cyprinus carpio) of complimentary feeding habits, which in turn resulted in lucrative financial return ICAR (2016).


1.1 History of composite fish farming

Composite fish culture was developed at the Cuttack Sub-station of the CIFRI during the mid-sixties and the ICAR was involved in testing its feasibility and economic viability through All India Coordinated Research Project on Composite Fish Culture and Fish Seed Production which was initiated far back in 1971. The Rural Aquaculture Project, National Demonstration and Operational Research Projects, National Science Centers, Lab-to-Land Programme and National Agricultural Research Projects are some of the other ICAR Projects which have greatly contributed to the evolution and transfer of the technology through various demonstration and training programmes (Tripathi, 1985).


1.2 Rationale of composite fish farming

Polyculture of compatible fish species is the most favoured fish culture practice which facilitates efficient utilization of all ecological zones within the pond environment enhancing the maximum standing crop (Lutz, 2003). In some cases, one species enhances the food availability for other species and thus increases the total fish yield per unit area (Azad et al., 2004). The principle behind the scientific fish culture is to produce maximum quantity of fish per unit area from a scientifically managed water body by stocking fast growing, economically important, compatible species having shortest food chain utilizing the all ecological niches of the water body (Goswami and Samajdar, 2011). The objective of raising healthy and economically viable fish crops is realised through appropriate manipulation of fish stock and pond ecology (FAO, 1985). Hussain et al. (2013) stated that there are many fish culture technologies available of which composite fish culture system is the most sustainable fish culture practice in India. Over the years, composite fish culture has been established itself as a proven technology aimed for obtaining higher yield and return from unit area (Hussein, 2012). Indian aquaculture has demonstrated a six and a half fold growth over the last two decades (Tripathi, 2003; Mahapatra et al., 2006) because of the increasing intensity of operation as well as introduction of exotic species in the species composition spectrum under polyculture systems. In aquaculture practice, the exotic fishes were introduced for utilization of vacant niche in the native ecosystem and increasing food production (Ma et al., 2003).


1.3 Role of exotic carps in composite culture with IMC

Catla is surface feeder and feeds on zooplankton and silver carp is also surface feeder, feeding mainly on phytoplankton (Lazzaro, 1987) and it has ecological and socio-economic potential advantages with having a strong impact on the pond ecology because it is a fast growing and very efficient filter-feeder (Milstein et al., 1985; Milstein, 1992). Grass carp consume low value vegetative waste and increase natural food production in the pond by nutrient recycling and fecal production (Li and Mathias, 1990). Mrigal is bottom feeder and considered to monitor culture and health status in farm condition (Ahmed et al., 2013). Common carp has more rapid growth and known as bioturbator (Dey et al., 2005). However, it not only increases food availability but also changes rohu’s feeding behavior and food intake (Anras et al., 2001). Ahmad et al. (2013) revealed that stocking density of C. idella and C. carpio in a stocking ratio of 1:1.5 gave better result than the rest of fish species selected for composite culture. The effectiveness is depicted in Chinese saying one grass carp raises three silver carps.


2 Management Aspects

Management protocols adopted in composite fish culture can be divided into pre-stocking management, stock management and post- stocking management.


2.1 Prestocking management

In aquaculture, prevention is always better than cure; therefore proper management starting from the pond preparation is very essential. The major pond preparation phase followed in prestocking management are aquatic insect and weed clearance by manual effort, eradication of predatory and weed fish by repeated netting, maintenance of physico-chemical quality of water, manuring by using cow dung and liming with quick lime for regulating pH of pond water (Hussain et al., 2013). Pond depth is considered as one of the most important factors in productivity (FAO, 2010). Production level decline as the depth of the pond increase from 5 to 9 feet (Biswas et al., 2017). According to FAO (2009) in general, productivity declined with increasing pond size. The better managerial intervention possible with the small to medium sized ponds of carp culture and small pond increased the possibility of effective management. More than 5 tonnes/ha/yr fish production is achieved from the average pond size of 0.6 to 1 ha (Biswas et al., 2018).


2.1.1 Aquatic weed and weed fish control

Aquatic weeds hamper primary productivity and soil hinder normal penetration of sun light and wind action and upsetting the oxygen balance, creating obstruction in movement of fishes and in netting operations etc.  Removal of weeds is done by manual or mechanical, chemical or biological means (ICAR, 2014). According to Hussain (2012), the mechanical or manual method is preferable due to no side effect. Removal of unwanted and predatory fishes and other animals is done by repeated netting or using mahua oil cake (produced from Bassia latifolia) @ 2,500 kg/ha/m water depth or by sun drying the pond bed. Biswas et al. (2017) have found different in 24 Pgs. (N) district, West Bengal that 87% of the farmers use 3,200 kg/ha mahua oil cake as fish toxicant and aquatic insects are eradicated through both repeated netting.


Weed fishes (e.g. Puntius sp., Oxygaster sp., Ambassis sp., Amblypharyngodon mola, Colisa sp., Rasbora sp., etc.) are those which compete with the culturable species of fishes for food, space and oxygen and causing serious problem to fish culture (Sinha et al., 1985). According to Rath (1993), removal of unwanted fish through physical methods like dewatering and de-silting of ponds, repeated netting operations, hooks and lines with baits are found to be incomplete and uneconomical. Biswas et al. (2017) have expressed that in practical field farmers use pesticides viz. Nuvan (Dichlorvos or 2, 2-dichlorovinyl dimethyl phosphate), Ustaad (Cypermethrin) etc.


2.1.2 Liming

Soil and water management is an essential step for optimising fish production (Sinha et al., 1985). Application of lime is done not only for fertilizing the pond but also as a remedial measure necessary in acidic pond. Lime application has many benefits in culture pond system viz. (i) neutralization of acidity (ii) increase in pH of bottom soil and thereby enhancing the availability of phosphorus added in fertilizer, (iii) accelerating the microbial activity and thereby diminishing the accumulation of organic matter in pond bottoms and favouring recycling of nutrients, (iv) maintaining the alkalinity and other physico-chemical characteristics of soil which in turn helps in enhancing fish/shrimp production, and, (v) improving the hygienic condition of pond bottom (Hussain et al., 2011). The normal doses of the lime desired ranges from 200 to 250 kg/ha. However, the actual dose has to be calculated based on pH of the soil and water (ICAR, 2014).


2.1.3 Fertilization and manuring

Fertilization keeps the metabolic cycle in operation, increases natural productivity (Huet, 1986) and as a means of increasing fish production is well accepted (Chakrabarty et al., 1975). Fertilizers are broadly two types: organic and inorganic. Organic fertilizers are of plant origin and inorganic fertilizers are of mineral origin. Animal wastes are important resources that are used to supplement organic matters and improve soil conditions (Garg and Kaushik, 2005). According to ICAR (2014), farm yard manure; cow dung @ 5,000 kg/ha and poultry or sheep manure are optimum for better fish production in composite fish farming. According to Biswas et al. (2017) before stocking, cow dung @ 10,000-11,000 kg/ha was considered better towards fish production. Parvez et al. (2006) reported that C. mrigala and C. carpio respond best in manured ponds with homestead organic wastes while C. idella do not show any marked response.


2.2 Stock management

2.2.1 Species composition

Selection of species plays an important role for any culture practices. In India, suitable and most common combinations of fish for composite fish culture system used to be are catla, rohu, and mrigal along with grass carp, silver carp and common carp (Rahman et al., 2006). However, other minor fishes viz. Ompok bimaculatus, Mystus seenghala, Notopterus chitala, Pangasius pangasius (Chaudhuri et al., 1974), Mugil cephalus (grey mullet) and Macrobrachium malcolmsonii, M. rosenbergii (giant freshwater prawns), Channa marulius (Govind et al., 1976) and Clarias batrachus (Tripathi, 1981) have also been experimented with in sizable numbers in composite fish culture (Hussain et al., 2013).


2.2.2 Stocking density and ratio

According to Sinha et al. (1985), a pond having average water depth of 2.0-3.0 m may be stocked at the rate of 5,000 fingerlings/ha. However, Datta (2014) advocated 6,000-12,000 fingerlings/ha in pond having an average water depth of 2.5 m. In any case the principle behind determining the stocking ratio is to fulfill the habitat and feeding niches operating in the upper, column and bottom layer of the pond with species combinations in such away to minimize overlap. However, for formation of distinct three layers in pond ecology a minimum depth of six feet is required. Generally, in six species combination, the upper layer of the pond is stocked with 30% of the total stock, whereas, the column and bottom layer holds 40% and 30% of the stocks respectively. Again, in each layer one IMC is co stocked with one exotic carp with non-competing habits e.g. catla with silver carp (upper layer), rohu with grass carp (column layer) and mrigal with common carp (bottom layer). Alikunhi et al. (1971) advocated production levels ranging from 3,000-3,500 kg/ha/yr, with a stocking density of 3,000-3,500 nos./ha.  Nearly 75% fish farmers in North 24 Pgs. district, West Bengal, practice 7-12 fish species at stocking density above 15,000 nos./ha in their ponds without maintaining the specific ratio (Biswas et al., 2017).


2.3 Post-stocking management

2.3.1 Feeding of fishes

Commonly available agricultural by-products such as rice bran (60%) and mustard oil cake (40%) are used as supplementary feed at the rate of 3% of standing crop of fish. Feeding of fish at 2-5% of the body weight is recommended based on natural productivity of fishpond (Sarkar, 2002). The recommended feeding rate is 5-6% of the body weight upto 500 g size of fish and then reduces to 3.5% of body weight from 500-1,000 g size of fish (ICAR, 2014). According to Biswas et al. (2017) most of the farmers (79%) in 24 Pgs. (N), West Bengal provide supplementary feed @ 7.5% of the body weight up to 500 g size of cultured carps and @ 4.6% of the body weight of 500-1,000 g.


2.3.2 Fertilization and liming

Raw cow dung @ 1,000 kg/ha/month can be applied near the dyke of the pond. Organic fertilizer like urea can be applied @ 25 kg/ha/month and single super phosphate @ 20 kg/ha/month. Inorganic manure is normally applied after 15 days of application of organic manure. Liming should be done once in a month @ 25 kg/ha to correct the water pH. Vermicompost might be a cost-effective fertilizer in carp culture, replacing the expensive chemical fertilizer di-ammonium phosphate (Chakrabarty et al., 2008). Now majority of the fish farmers (81.76%) in 24 Pgs. (N), West Bengal apply fertilizers viz. single super phosphate and urea for enhancing productivity during post stocking management of carps with no scientific basis with regards to frequency and dosage (Biswas et al., 2017).


2.3.3 Health care and hygiene

The health of fish in ponds depends mainly on the environmental conditions and the skills of the farmers. Accordingly, the water quality, feeding and the intensity of production are the factors which determine the actual health condition of fish (FAO, 2010). Before releasing the fingerlings, a dip treatment with 3% KMnO4 for 1 minute should be given. Alternatively 2% to 3% common salt solution may also be used. In case of any parasitic infestation like Argulus sp., Malathion @ 0.25-0.5 mg/L 3-4 times at weekly interval can completely eliminate the parasite. Test netting must be carried out periodically for ensuring growth and health status of the cultured fishes once in a month. Checking the growth of fish should be done on a regular basis, preferably once in two months (FAO, 2010).


2.3.4 Harvesting and yield

Harvesting is generally done at the end of first year, when the fishes attain average weight of 800 g to 1.25 kg. With Proper management a production of 4 to 5 tonnes/ha can be obtained in a year (ICAR, 2014). Fish production obtained by combined culture of IMC and exotic carps was 2.06 tonnes/ha/yr (Hussain et al., 2013). Fish farmers produce above 5 tonnes/ha/yr at stocking density above 15,000 nos./ha and with more than one or two stocking frequency (Biswas et al., 2017). Moreover, the original practice of complete harvesting at the end of one year production cycle was mostly abandoned with multiple socking and multiple harvesting concepts in recent years.


3 Adaptive Changes

Several alterations modifications in the pre stocking and post stocking management practices from the ones originally advocated during its inception in the seventies have been made by the farmers based on their own experiences through ages (Table 1).


Table 1 Notable alteration from the classical package of practice by the farmers in different stages of management

Before stocking of the desired species, most of the farmers (65%) in East Burdwan and 24 Pgs (N) district, West Bengal, used to apply mohua (Bassia latifolia) oil cake either for eradication of unwanted species or as manure without considering the water depth at extremely variable rates which is a distinct deviation from the advocated dosage of 2,500 kg/ha/m depth of water (Mondal, 2014; Biswas et al., 2017). Similarly, most fish farmers apply agricultural lime @ ≥350 kg/ha without measuring the soil or water pH (Mondal, 2014; Biswas et al., 2017).


With regards to aquatic insect eradication, Mondal (2014) observed that in East Burdwan district, West Bengal, India that, none of the farmer use soap-oil emulsion as usually recommended in prestocking pond preparation of composite farming of carps during the early seventies. Instead, most of fish farmers eradicate aquatic insect both through repeated netting and pesticides viz. Nuvan (Dichlorvos or 2, 2-dichlorovinyl dimethyl phosphate), Ustaad (Cypermethrin) etc. Similar observation has beenreported by Biswas et al. (2017) in 24 Pgs. (N) district; West Bengal regarding aquatic insect eradication.


Regarding stocking frequency, nearly half of the fish farmers in the above stated districts of West Bengal, India stock their ponds one to three times in a year. About 66.67% farmers practice six species combination and the rest prefer more than six species combination (Mondal, 2014). Majority of the fish farmers (47%) stock 10,000-15,000 nos./ha while 44% of the farmers stock more than 15,000 nos./ha (Mondal, 2014; Biswas et al., 2017) against the original recommendation of 7,500-10,000 nos./ha. With regards to species combination, 45% of farmers follow the classical six species combination for their composite fish farming, 25% of farmers preferred to culture IMC with minor carps like bata (Labeo bata) and sar punti (Puntius sarana) substituting grass carp (Mondal, 2014). This is in contrast to Biswas et al. (2017), who stated that, the classical six species combination and ratio of IMC and exotic carps are not being followed by any of the farmers in the surveyed areas of 24 pgs (N) district of West Bengal.


Biswas et al. (2017) reported that 79% farmer provide supplementary feed @ 7.5% of the body weight up to 500 g size of cultured carps and @ 4.6% of the body weight of 500-1,000 g size which was a clear deviation from the recommended feeding rate of 4-6%. Again, in preparation of feed, several inputs have been incorporated by the farmers altering the recommended composition with oil cake and rice bran (1:1 w/w). Most of the farmers aimprovised the supplementary feed with the incorporation of either readily available carbohydrate source in the form of dry bread or biscuit crumbs, ground nut oil cake, mustard oil cake, rice bran etc. (Mondal, 2014; Biswas et al., 2017). With all these alterations, production levels of 5.17-5.58 tonnes/ha/yr were achieved against the average national level of production of 2.3 tonnes/ha/yr.


4 Conclusion

Passing through the 50 years of introduction, composite fish farming in India has been transformed in many ways so far the management practices are concerned. In most cases, such changes are based upon the experiences of the practicing farmers driven by the continuously changing economic aspects of production and by the continuously changing consumer demand in a growing economy.


Authors’ contributions

Banasree Biswas has surveyed and collected data regarding present status and alterations in the management practices of composite fish farming in 24 Pgs. (N) district, West Bengal, India and participated in the preparation of manuscript. Prof. S. K. Das has regularly monitored, guided and evaluated during the study and preparation of the manuscript as well. Ipsita Mondal has surveyed and collected data regarding present status and alterations in the management practices of composite fish farming in East Burdwan district, West Bengal, India. Dr. Amit Mandal contributed in compiling the data and preparation of the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.



The first (BB) and the second author (IM) acknowledge the farmers for their generous help and cooperation during collection of data. The logistic and administrative support from the Department of Aquaculture, Faculty of Fishery Sciences, West Bengal University of Animal and Fishery Sciences is gratefully acknowledged by all the authors.



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