The growth performance of the IMCs in pens varied species wise with C. idella showing maximum growth in terms of weight gain, average daily growth and specific growth rate followed by L. catla, L. rohita and C. mrigala. The survival rate was highest for L. catla. The higher growth rate and low FCR (<1) of grass carp in pens might be attributed to utilization of macrophyte growth in the pens. The macrophyte growth in pens with IMC was much higher than in pens with grass carp. The growth and survival of carps in pen showed similar trend to growth of carps reported in pens installed in Assam and Uttar Pradesh (Bhattacharjya et al. 2015; Alam et al. 2017). The comparatively lower growth might be probably due to low temperature regime in the present study, as the aim was to overwinter the seed to release them in the open wetland to utilise primary productivity and achieve compensatory growth in the productive wetland in growing season. The growth performance of the seed may be better during warmer temperature regime due to higher metabolic rate, feed utilization and shorted culture period.
A net yield realized viz 309.2kg advanced fingerlings per pen from IMC culture and 617.5±13.10kg per pen from grass carp culture was released into wetland proper as an input for CBF. Carp seed can easily be reared in high stocking densities in pens with using supplementary feeding with artificial feed to achieve high production rates (Das et al. 2017b). The additional benefit for in situ raising of seed for CBF is lower mortality, low production cost. Moreover, carp fingerlings grown in pens and subsequently released into wetlands show better survival (Roy and Hassan 2013). The present study highlighted the efficacy of pen enclosure for seed raising in these weed choked, shallow wetlands in absence of nursery facilities. This pen culture technique has also been deemed useful for grow out of carps and conservation of auto-recruiting small indigenous species in the wetlands of eastern and north-eastern India (Sarkar et al. 2019).
Marginal fishers are more likely to adopt an adaptation strategy if it is economically viable (Kijima et al. 2011). The economics have been worked out considering possibility of three crops (seed) per year and culturing IMCs in all three pens and grass carp in two pens. The BC ratio for the culture (1.53) indicated its economic viability. Feed and seed cost formed over 90% of the recurring cost. Utilizing all the pens for grass carp will give higher benefit cost ratio. The technological feasibility and economic viability of pen culture have been previously reported in wetlands of Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Assam and Manipur with BC ratio varying from 1.4 to 1.8 (Gorai et al. 2006; Roy and Hassan 2013; Bhattacharjya et al. 2015; Alam et al. 2017; Das et al. 2017a,b; Yengkokpam et al. 2019). The variation in profitability may be attributed to difference in seed size stocked, culture period and duration, type of feed used, habitat characteristics and climatic conditions.
In the present study, most of the water quality parameters did not vary significantly (p>0.05) between pens and reference sites. This may be due to small-scale farming. The lower plankton abundance and chlorophyll a level in the pens may be due to grazing of plankton by the stocked fishes and lower dissolved oxygen can be related to respiration. Most of the environmental parameters were well within range suitable for carp culture.
The mean annual temperature in the district of North 24 Parganas shows increasing trend while precipitation shows decreasing trend in the last two decades. Climate change trends along 4 major river basins viz. Ganga, Brahmaputra, Mahanadi, Cauvery show similar climatic trend (ICAR-CIFRI 2016; Sharma et al. 2015; Sarkar et al. 2019) in the last three decades. The climatic parameters have direct bearing on growth of species in floodplain wetlands affecting its production (Karnatak et al. 2020). The climatic variations along with overexploitation and habitat may be some of the major reasons for declining natural fish production and diminishing fish diversity in this wetland. The catchment is dominated by agriculture activities, which might be major source of nutrients through runoff reflected in the nutrient status (eutrophic) and primary productivity. The agriculture in the catchment is also one of the major cause of water abstraction from the wetland (Sarkar et al. 2020a). Paddy and Jute are major water intensive crops cultivated in the catchment fulfilling 30-40% of the water requirement from the wetland. Further jute retting in the wetland causes deterioration of water quality during monsoon months (July-September) (Fig. 6). This requires integrated wetland management interventions like use of water efficient irrigation system (drip, sprinkler) to reduce water abstraction and cropping of low water requiring crops like oil seeds, pulse and other cash crops. Promotion of organic farming in the catchment can control eutrophication of the wetland and promote food safety (Hassan et al. 2015).
The fish production from the studied wetland before and after the intervention showed a jump of 24% within one year. The productivity of the wetland has increased significantly from 356-472kg/ha/year, while revenue increased to the tune of 32%. Grass carp contribution to total catch increased from 8-10% to 20-22%. The stakeholders involved in routine monitoring of the wetland resources and fishing activities state that 80-85% of the wetland is infested with aquatic macrophytes including floating, submerged and emergent varieties. They opined that the grass carp stocked could utilise 40-45% of the macrophytes. The growth of the stocked grass carp was 0.8 to 1kg within 6 month and 2-2.3kg within a year. Grass carp feeds preferably on submerged, rooted emergent vegetation (Swanson and Bergersen 1988) and can consume macrophytes up to 100% of body weight per day (van der Lee et al. 2017). Although in pond ecosystems they effectively control macrophytes at relatively low densities of 50 juvenile carp/ha (van Dyke et al. 1984); however the densities required to manage weed choked floodplain wetlands may be far more. In the present study grass carp stocking at the rate of 360 fish/ha could aid in utilization of approximately 40-45% of the macrophyte biomass, leaving further scope for fisheries enhancement through incorporation of herbivorous and macrophyte utilizing fish species like grass carp. There is a need to optimize their stocking densities based on area of wetland, type of macrophyte infestation, ecosystem type and their market demand. The production of these fishes in pens and its subsequent release in wetlands will not only boost carp fish production from the wetland but will not only reduce cost of seed for CBF. The growth performance and survival of grass carp indicate suitability of pens for their culture. Evidently, integration of grass carp will not only aid in ecofriendly macrophyte management in the wetlands but will also cater to nutritional and livelihood security of the fishers in face of changing climate by utilizing natural productivity converting weed biomass to protein food in form of fish.