Aquaculture has been touted as an efficient and sustainable way to meet the needs of the seafood market across the world through breeding and harvesting of fish in a controlled environment !

Bharathi Subramaniam, our next pathbreaker, works at the Coastal Aquaculture Authority, Chennai, regulating activities connected with aquaculture in coastal areas to ensure that it is not detrimental to the coastal environment and to raise awareness about the concept of responsible aquaculture.

Bharathi talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about his interest in innovative aquaculture methods that led him to publish more than 50 articles on different fish culture techniques.

For students, with India’s coastline running as long as 8000 km, there is immense potential for aquaculture to play an important role in our food ecosystem as along as we follow environmentally friendly practices !

Bharathi, tell us about your background?

I grew up in a village near Anthiyur, Erode district, Tamil Nadu. My parents are farmers. Our farm was completely dependent on rain as we did not have an irrigation facility. We faced a lot of uncertainties and difficulties throughout our livelihood. My parents felt that providing me with higher education would be of good use in order to give me a good future. Scout, football, basketball, and cultural activities (except for dancing), were my interests since I was a child. 

What did you do for graduation/post-graduation?

I did my graduation and post-graduation in Fisheries Science with specialization in Aquaculture. I was awarded B.F.Sc (Bachelor of Fisheries Science) and M.F.Sc (Master of Fisheries) from Tamil Nadu Dr. J. Jayalalithaa Fisheries University (TNJFU).

My Post Graduate research work was focused on optimizing protein-energy requirements for Chanos chanos (Milk Fish) fingerlings using plant protein (Soya bean meal and DDGS) and developing cost-effective feed. Fish meal is now primarily used in animal feed. The demand for fishmeal in world markets has increased the price of fishmeal.  This has increased the production cost of fish feeds. So, the study was focused on the replacing the fishmeal with alternative soybean meal and DDGS (Distillers Dried Grain Solubles) in Milkfish fingerlings for finding the alternative low cost protein sources.

What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and uncommon career?

I studied in government aided school till the tenth grade with an ambition to become a software developer. I scored 94 % in SSLC. My teachers advised me to major in biology for 11th and 12th grade. To study biology, I moved to a private school. But, after completing my 12th grade, I wanted to become a doctor instead of a software developer. But my 12th grade marks (cutoff) were not high enough to pursue MBBS/BDS in government colleges. So I applied for a fisheries science course casually. I did not get selected for counseling in the initial round. As a result, I enrolled in Mechanical Engineering. I also received a counseling letter to study BDS through self-financing, which I did not consider due to my financial situation. In the meantime, I received a call from the Fisheries College and Research Institute, inviting me to join them. Finally, I enrolled in a Fisheries course.

How did you make a transition to a new career?

In the seventh semester of my bachelor’s programme (B.F.Sc), I underwent an Experiential Learning Program where I cultured Carps in earthen ponds and Pangasius fish in cages. I learnt a lot about larval rearing, live feed culture, ornamental fish culture, and vermiculture there. In the eighth semester, I went to outside farms and gained a lot of farming knowledge, including feeding, sampling, larval rearing, fish packing, live fish marketing, and harvesting. I visited a tilapia farm as well as an ornamental fish farm. Then I prepared for the All India Postgraduate Entrance Exam, however I was tragically unsuccessful due to a narrow margin of error. That caused me a great deal of pain. Then I studied for the Tamil Nadu Fisheries University entrance exam, where I was placed sixth. Aquaculture is the field I selected. My career as an aquaculturist began here. I started writing articles on aquaculture and related technical perspectives in both Tamil and English, with vision to spread knowledge and awareness in the society about the sector. I have published 50 articles as a main author and co-author. It’s about different fish culture techniques, fish meal replacements in fish diets, role of  functional feed additives, ornamental fish culture and its breeding, role of herbals in fish feeds, water quality parameters, mobile apps in fisheries sector etc. 

How did you get your first break?

After a year of post-graduation, I began working for the Coastal Aquaculture Authority as a Monitoring Assistant (consultant), which was my 1st break.

What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them?

Challenge 1: During my post-graduation, I didn’t receive the required survivability while transferring fish from Pamban to the Pulicat research centre for my research. My time limit would have increased if I did not complete my research on time. I would have had to pay the fine as well. So I finished my research by transferring all of my research materials to the Mandapam Research Centre. 

Challenge 2: I was not hired after completing my postgraduate degree. I went to all of the interviews that were connected to my field. I received a lot of bad remarks from society about this. But I didn’t give a damn about that. I didn’t abandon my efforts. Eventually, I was hired by the Coastal Aquaculture Authority.

Tell us about your work at Coastal Aquaculture Authority

Breeding or Culturing of Aquatic organisms under controlled conditions is called Aquaculture. Aquaculture is an important food producing sector which provides food, nutrition and employment to millions of people to maintain their livelihoods. Global aquaculture production has reached around 178.5 million tonnes in 2018, out of which 96.4 million tonnes are obtained from fish capture and 82.1 million tonnes from aquaculture (FAO, 2020). India has major potential for Aquaculture, with 8118 Km of coastal line, 2.36 million ha of ponds and tanks, 3.9 million hectares of estuarine area, 0.16 million Km of rivers and canals, 3.15 million ha of reservoirs and 0.2 million ha of floodplain wetlands. Total fish production in India was 14.16 MMT, 3.72 MMT from Marine sector and 10.43 MMT from Inland sector. Aquaculture contributes more in this total fish production. Contribution of Fisheries Sector in Indian Economy was 1.24% in 2018-19 (HFS, 2020).

I’ve been working at the Coastal Aquaculture Authority in Chennai since July, 2020. The Coastal Aquaculture Authority was established under the Coastal Authority Act, 2005 for regulating activities connected with coastal aquaculture in coastal areas to ensure that coastal aquaculture is not detrimental to the coastal environment and to raise awareness about the concept of responsible aquaculture. This includes both on-the-job and off-the-job work. It is necessary to work both in the field and in the office. Samples and data must be collected from aquaculture farms and hatcheries, and awareness programs must be conducted. In the office, I’m responsible for reviewing and approving applications for registration and renewal of coastal aquaculture establishments (farms and hatcheries), as well as drafting guidelines. My day begins at 9.15 a.m., with drafting important guidelines, screening files, and verifying certificates before issuing to stakeholders, and some days it starts  in the fields, with meetings with local fisheries officials, meeting farmers, collecting samples, and educating them about registration, assisting with inspections with the committee, and using antibiotic-free products in their farms. The great thing about my job is that you will never be bored. Every day, I am learning something new.

How does your work benefit society?

Educating farmers on the detrimental effects of antibiotics in aquaculture ponds will aid in the preservation of the environmental and human health. Water quality monitoring on a regular basis will aid in understanding the state of a certain region and its effects on the ecosystem. Making aquaculture producers register will legitimize their operations and allow them to get government subsidies more readily.

Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!

We ran a special campaign for farm registration and renewal in the Mayiladuthurai district through our CAA (Coastal Aquaculture Authority), where I approached the farmers who were not registering or renewing their farms and educated them on the need of doing so, in front of the collector of the district. My authorities complimented me on my performance.

Your advice to students based on your experience?

Understand the fundamentals of the subject initially when studying. In the system, there are no good and bad fields. It is contingent on our diligence, expertise, and potential. Fix your target and keep trying to hit it; sometimes you can use a rocket to go to your destination, and other times you must walk. Don’t stray too far from the path.

Future Plans?

I’d like to contribute to making the aquaculture business more viable for farmers. It could be a low-cost feed, as well as aquaculture processes or equipment. I want to be one of the most influential people in my field.