Netting a windfall

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A bioactive product invented by a start-up incubated at IIT Kharagpur’s STEP (Science and Technology Entrepreneurs’ Park) is silently changing the face of aquaculture in Eastern Midnapore. ‘Mr Fish’, produced with the latest technology, is one-of-a-kind of product that not only increases the size of the fish produced in the least possible time but, and more importantly, enhances its taste and nutritional quality. Produced by Zelence Industries Pvt. Ltd. (www.myzelence.com), the start-up from IIT Kharagpur, the product has come as a boon to fish farmers in Bengal and neighbouring Orissa.

Both the states have seen a phenomenal increase in the demand of carp and shrimp in the past few years. In the riverine lowland areas of eastern Midnapore, where the product is being tried, farmers once felt helpless as large tracts of their land remained flooded for a sizeable part of the year. They now either use the water to undertake fish farming themselves for a few months or give their submerged lands on a contract-basis to farmers who carry out aquaculture. The result has been a booming business in fish.

However, unscientific farming practices along with high stocking density have led to a culture of fish farming where the quality of the product is mostly neglected. There are complaints from the consumers about the deteriorating taste of the cultivated fishes. The fishes also suffer from early decomposition. “So far, there has been no product available in the market that deals with these problems, enhances fish quality or stops the deterioration in taste. Most of the products deal with disease control in farming but no product till date ensures fish taste and quality. That is why Mr Fish is such a novelty,” says Prof. Jayanta Bhattacharya of the Department of Mining Engineering and School of Environmental Science and Engineering. Prof. Bhattacharya is one of the directors of Zelence.

Mr Fish is produced from natural bioactive molecules and some isolated and innovated probiotics. The listed components are Kelp extract, medicinal plant extract, Lactobaccillus plantatum, Lactobacillus acidophilus,etc. Of high liquid consistency, Mr Fish improves the feed conversion ratio, enhances particular amino acids, and regulates the control of uniform distribution of fats and proteins in fish cells that results in improved shine, storability and taste of fish.

“When used in the right quantity, within the same time and with the use of the same amount of food as before, the rate of growth and shine of the fish and shrimp are comparatively much better than that produced by fish farms that do not use our product. Mr Fish increases resistance power in fish, and enhances the quality and texture of fish by evenly distributing the fatty acid content and right amount of taste active components such as TMAO, glycins, alanine, monophosphates and so on, plus increasing the feed conversion ratio,” says Dr Bidus Kanti Das, Biotechnologist, who holds a PhD from IIT Kharagpur, and is a Director of Zelence. The prescribed quantity for carp is 60-100 ml per metric ton of feed and 120-200 ml for shrimp. Mr Fish has to be mixed well with the fish feed.

Mr. Biswajit Das, a fish farmer from Bhemua, Sabang, who is in this profession since 2002, and is currently cultivating in a 97 acre jheel/lake observed, “The taste is far better than in previous occasions, and this has been repeatedly reported by traders and consumers. The growth is now at an expected level. I would recommend Mr Fish to other farmers also”.

Pijush Kanti Bhanja, a fish farmer in Moyna, who used Mr Fish for a month and saw dramatic improvements said, “All the varieties of carp, particularly the Roopchand, in my farm have undergone a healthy increase in size. In fact, my neighbours, who have asked me for fish have told me that my fish tastes much better than those available in the market.”

Subhasish Bera, a farmer in Kishorepur who used Mr Fish for three months, reports, “I have needed comparatively less food this time for my fish. Besides, the taste of the fish is much better. There is a lot of oil in the fish as well.”

Prof. Bhattacharya says, “Traders who transport the fish are now more interested in selling the fish developed with Mr Fish because of better price and quantity. The quality improvement has increased the price of fish as well. During dull season, the produce that fetched Rs 50 a kilogram now fetch Rs 80 per kilogram. In a saturated market of fishes, distinctiveness attracts more buyers, steady market and better price. Zelence has made a difference for over the past one-and-a-half years.”

The firm first started testing the product in small ponds from 2015. “The product was matured in June 2018, when we released Mr Fish in the market. Now the product is used in Simlapal in Bankura, Moyna, Sabang, Narayangarh and some areas of Midnapore and the reports are exciting,” says Dr Das. The fish from East Midnapore go to north Bengal, Ranchi and even Bhubaneswar.

At a time when there is talk of rural distress across India, the increased prosperity from aquaculture is reflected in the growing number of schools and other amenities in the Eastern Midnapore region. There is growing interest and enquiry about Mr Fish from farmers of West Bengal, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and neighbouring Bangladesh.

Zelence has several other innovations to its credit. All of these have been commercialized successfully in the area of nanotechnology, bioactive molecules, microbial consortium for application in agriculture, animal husbandry and environmental engineering. Zelence is being incubated at STEP since 2017. It is one of the many successful start-ups incubated at IIT Kharagpur. One among these successes is Capillary Technologies, which is a software product company providing cloud-based Omnichannel Customer Engagement, eCommerce platform and related services for retailers and brands.

(For more information on Zelence: +91-7001564058)

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