E-Pao! Education - Urea in fish farms: What's left to eat?

Urea in fish farms: What's left to eat?

By: Irabanta Oinam *

Do we need a law to get fish farmers to manage nutrients?

Modern day citizens of the world are hooked on chemicals, though most are not aware of it. Resource-intensive food production methods, rising population and rising per capita consumption are bringing us closer to the limits of the planet's ability to produce safe food for everyone.

Consumption of excess chemical fertilizers has a broad range of effects on human and animal health. We talk about organic farming because the commonly used chemical fertilizers found in food can significantly influence ill-health of consumers.

Urea was discovered by Hilaire Rouelle in 1773. It was the first organic compound to be artificially synthesized from inorganic starting materials, in 1828 by Friedrich Woehler. Urea has the highest nitrogen content of all solid nitrogenous fertilizers in common use (46.4%N). It, therefore, has the lowest transportation costs per unit of nitrogen nutrient.

Fertilizers and supplemental feeds are predominant inputs of nutrient among various sources in closed ponds fish farming. Fertilizers are used primarily to propagate natural organisms as fish feed. Proper fertilizers and feeds are essential for high fish yields.

Today we replace the organic fertilize inputs of nutrient by chemical fertilizer such as urea in the most existing fish farms of Manipur to enhance supplement, or replace natural pond productivity. To increase pond carrying capacity, off-farm inputs such as chemical fertilizers and supplementary feeds are required.

So that vast amounts of nitrogen (urea) are used to increase the growth of fish during the short period. This nutrient passes right through the fish. The larger the livestock operation, the more nutrients will concentrate. More fish could be produced on less land within a short period by fewer people, thus supporting a huge population. As a result of modern chemical fish farming methods use large scale chemical fertilizers especially urea in Manipur.

Chemical farming generally pleases most people because they have earned good income within the short period. However, the most concerned problem resulted from the intensive culture is waste effluents which contain concentrated nutrients and suspended solids.

Those wastes are a major source of pollution that deteriorates water quality and accelerates eutrophication of aquatic environment. In closed pond culture systems with little water exchange the wastes in water are discharged when draining the ponds during fish harvest.

Many people do not realize the environmental and health costs stemming from tons of Urea poured into the fish farms to increase the growth of the fishes within a short span. The closed nature of the aquaculture system is an additional barrier to contamination of concentrate urea in the fish which may be a problem with farm-raised fishes of Manipur but should not be an issue in fish caught in the wild.

We do not consider the environmental impact based on the rate of nutrient wastes. The increasing use of chemicals in fish production may pose a relatively new set of risks. Excess nutrients fuel algal blooms by speeding up the algae's growth-and-decay cycle. This depletes oxygen in the water, killing off immobile bottom dwellers.

Excess nitrogen in soil can lead to less diversity of plant species, as well as reduced production of biomass. It can gradually increase the acidity of the soil until it begins to impede plant growth. Chemically fertilized makes less biologic activity in the soil food web (the microscopic organisms that make up the soil ecosystem). Misuse of excess urea in the modern fish farms in the state may result a great environmental impact.

In any commercial aquaculture venture, food safety is an issue. Despite these concerns the World Health Organization considers the fish industry to be of low risk to human health. Hunger and food insecurity are currently problems not of resource scarcity but of insufficient political will or moral imperative to change the way food is allocated.

It is estimated that the developing world alone is producing enough food to provide every person with > 2,500 calories/day. If unsustainable aquaculture remains the norm, it may became a major factor in fish food insecurity in the long run.

Both the individual and collective actions would hasten the shift toward a more sustainable pisceculture, which is an important component in the larger transition to a sustainable economy.

The mission of the fish farm shall include the goal of protection of the environment and of the consumer. It is of utmost importance to ensure the success of the fish farms to harvest and distribute the finest and safest of products to the public. Future considerations must include social considerations of community as well as employment opportunities made available by the fish farms.

All fish farmers need to protect the environment. Organic guidelines have long recognized the risks associated with misuse of chemical fertilizers and include rules that promote the best management practices, and organic standards prohibit chemical fertilizers.

Shall we use our resources in the unsustainable way by compromising the future option?

* Irabanta Oinam wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on July 21st, 2006

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