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Periphyton Growth On Natural Substrates And Its Efficacy In Aquaculture

Manas Pratim Dutta1, Kamaleshwar Kalita2, Bipul Phukan3,

Sangipran Baishya4 and Ranjit Bordoloi5

1, 2, 3 and 4 College of Fisheries, Assam Agricultural University

5 NAIP Cell, Assam Agricultural University

Feed is one of the most important criteria for aqua farming. In aquaculture, 60% of the production cost is incurred as feed (R.C. Bhujel, 2009). In extensive and semi intensive systems, natural food like planktons and bottom organisms play the most vital role in fish production. Periphyton is considered as an important food component for fishes. Nutrients are channelized through periphyton. Periphyton grows on various substratums in aquatic environment and support fish production. In search of low cost aqua farming, a range of substrate based aquatic system has been developed for both fin fish and shell fish culture to provide shelter and increases periphyton production as food and thereby increasing aquaculture production. The development of such periphyton based aquaculture technology appears to be feasible and it can bring about major advances in the development of low cost farming in aquaculture with no additional feed and reduction of pollutants.

The term periphyton, 'Peri' means round and 'Phyton' means Plant was coined by Behning (1924). Periphyton is defined by Azim et. al. (2002) as 'a complex of sessile biota attached to submerged substrata such as stones and sticks and includes algae, invertebrates, detritus and microorganisms.' Young (1945) described it as an assemblage of organisms growing upon the free surfaces of submerged objects of water and covering them with a slimy coating. Hunt et. al. (1952) defined it as an assemblage of algae and minute animals covering submerged objects with a slimy coating. Periphyton may be defined as the complex of sessile aquatic biota with associated detritus, attached to submerged substrate. It includes sessile algae, micro fauna and other bottom organism in combination with microbial bio-films (van Dam et. al., 2002). Thus, not only the minute sessile organisms living within a slimy matrix on submerged objects but also the free living organisms associated with this matrix have been greatly treated as periphyton. Periphyton has become a universally accepted expression for all organisms attached to a submerged substrate. However the word biofilm is used synonymous with periphyton to indicate the attached microbial population in aquatic environment.

Benefits of periphyton:

Food source:

A functional relationship exists between periphyton and other aquatic ecosystem components. Periphyton may contribute substantially to primary productivity especially in shallow freshwater ecosystems and thus provide an important energy input to both detritus and grazing food chains of the ecosystem. Periphyton has significant role of providing food for fish and other fauna in natural and controlled environment. Periphyton serves as the diet of a wide range of aquatic organisms like fish, snails, chironomids mayflies, oligochaetes, crustaceans etc. (Jones et. al., 1991). Generally periphytons are very rich in nutrients. Fish yield from extensive pond could be much higher if species culture on strictly herbivore diet.

Efficient nutrient utilization:

Nutrients already in the water can be used by the periphyton by incorporating them into the biomass i.e., periphyton take up nutrient from the system for their own growth. Since periphyton can be easily grown on any substratum, any easily available material can be used as substrate for the growth of periphyton. So, for the growth of periphyton beside the surface, no further expenditure is asked for. The nutrient re-cycling of the periphyton contributes to water purification just within the pond or tank. Some algae are able to use ammonia, too.

Water purification:

Periphyton plays several roles in removing phosphate from the water column, including phosphate uptake and deposition, filtering particulate phosphate from the water, and attenuating flow, which decreases advective transport of particulate and dissolved phosphate from sediments. Furthermore, periphyton photosynthesis locally increases pH by up to 1 unit, which can lead to increased precipitation of calcium phosphate, concurrent deposition of carbonate-phosphate complexes, and long-term burial of phosphate. Actively photosynthesizing periphyton can cause super-saturated O2 concentrations near the sediment surface encouraging deposition of metal phosphates. Periphyton assemblages can play several roles that lead to increased retention of nutrients. First, they can remove nutrients from the water column and cause a net flux of nutrients toward the sediments. Second, they can slow water exchange across the sediment/ water column boundary thus decreasing advective transport of phosphate away

from sediments. Third, they can intercept nutrients diffusing from the benthic sediments or senescent macrophytes. Fourth, they can cause biochemical conditions that favour phosphate deposition. Finally, they can trap particulate material from the water column (Walter K. Dodds, 2003).

Some traditional substrate based fisheries


Welcomme (1972) made the pioneering efforts to record the Acadja-based fisheries prevalent in West Africa. The 'Acadjas' describes a group of installations of dense masses of branches that are artificially planted in the muddy bottom in shallow (1.5cm in depth) waters in coastal lagoons of West Africa to attract fish. In the Acadja system, dense clusters of branches are placed in lagoons to attract fish. The tree branches are known to promote the growth of periphyton, which is an excellent food for many different species of fish. In addition, tree branches also provide shelter for the fish by creating a protective environment. After nearly two decades of the pioneering work by Dr. Welcomme, this showed that farmers could get a high production. The harvest from 'Acadjas' is known to vary from 4 to 20 ton of fish ha-1yr-1..


In Sri Lanka brush park fisheries are also prevalent in the shallow coastal waters with more than 3000 brush parks established during the season to attract fish and shrimp. In other South Asian Countries, different forms of fish aggregating devices are used. Senanayak (1981) reported "athkatu" as a substrate based fishery prevalent in Sri Lanka.


A similar culture fishery practice has been observed in Assam, a state located in north eastern India. The fish farmers in this part of India widely practice fish culture in their freshwater ponds. The traditional practice of Assamese people is to install bamboo branches, locally known as Xeng, into their ponds to avoid unauthorized fishing. Bamboo branches, locally known as xeng are used as natural substrate in fish culture ponds in Assam. Introduction of xeng into the fish ponds is primarily done to protect fish ponds from unauthorized fishing. Besides attracting fish for shelter, it also provides food to the stocked fishes in the form of periphyton settled on rough surfaces of bamboo branches. Moreover, fishes are often seen rubbing their bodies against sharp faces of xeng probably to avoid external parasitic infestations (Saikia et. al., 2010).


In Cambodia, brush parks, commonly known as "Samarahs" are used as fish aggregating devices in many river stretches. The tree branches are submersed in rivers and the surface is covered with floating aquatic vegetation. Fish begin to inhabit these structures after about two months. Fishers encircle the area with a net, the branches are removed and the fish are harvested. Brush park fisheries similar to those in Cambodia are also seen in several other Southeast Asian countries. The 'Samarahs' are made up of the tree branches and bamboo shoots accompanied with floating aquatic weeds like Eichornia crassipes. This acts as a medium for algal attachment. The fish are harvested 60 days after installation of substrates. Fish yields from 'Samarahs' were around 4 ton ha-1yr-1season-1.


'Katha' is the traditional method of fishing in rivers where substrates like Colocasia esculenta and branches of bamboo (Kanchi), mango etc. are used as a medium for algal attachment. The 'katha' fishery showed about 33% increment in fish production (Wahab and Kibria, 1994). Bernascek (1992) have suggested that a major possibility for increasing fish production above the natural level is through the use of katha as a biological production system. According to M.D. Sagir Ahmed and Hafeza Akther (2008), katha can increase biological production in three ways by i) creating more secure and diverse spawning habitats for some species and thus increasing reproductive success; ii) creating more secure nursery habitats by lowering predation rates and increasing survival of fry and fingerlings; and, iii) creating large food resources due to growth of periphyton, a high quality natural food and thus increasing fish growth and condition.


In the state of Manipur on the Northeastern part of India, substrate based aquaculture systems are widely prevalent in the Lok Tak Lake. Floating islands formed through the dense growth of aquatic weeds and grasses are spread throughout the lake and are used as the natural fish aggregating devices. These floating islands, which are constructed by trimming the fronds of weed mats to a width of 1-2 meters and these trimmed fronds are bent in a circular format to give a diameter of 10 to 30 meters. The two ends are held together with bamboo and ropes. Once the circular ring is formed, they are moved to the desired place in the lake and they are anchored using the bamboo. Fishers even build houses on the weed masses and there are about 500 families living on such masses on the lake. The phums are harvested at an interval of one to two months. Several strategies are adopted by farmers to increase productivity from the phum like fixing feedbags in the area to attract fish in the early stages of phum establishment and increasing productivity by regulating weed density inside the weed ring. Production obtained from these phum areas are reported to be very good (estimates indicate 300 to 1000 kg / phum) (Suresh, 1999).

Aji gnui assonii:

Saikia and Das (2009) reported of a traditional periphyton based organic rice-fish practice in north eastern India, locally known as 'aji gnui assonii' where Common carp (C. carpio) utilizes the aquatic biota as the source of natural food. The farmers, known as 'Apatani', stock all the strains of Common carp (C. carpio var. speularis, C. carpio var. communis and C. carpio var. nudus). The fact is that the farmers never utilize any supplementary food to feed the stocked fish. The fish Common carp is totally dependent on the natural food of aquatic phase in the field. Farmers basically follow the traditional agronomic practices initializing rice plantation in March and continuing up to the end of April. After 10 days of transplantation of seedling the fry (3-5 cm) of Common carp are stocked into the field water. The final harvest of fish attains up to 30 cm and the total production ranges between 300-500 kg ha-1 season-1 in addition to total production of 3.0-4.0 ton ha-1 season-1 of rice.


Azim M. E., Verdegem M. C. J., Khatoon H., Wahab M. A., van Dam A. A. and Beveridge, M. C. M. 2002. A comparison of fertilization, feeding and three periphyton substrates for increasing fish production in freshwater pond aquaculture in Bangladesh. Aquaculture, 212:227-243.

Behning, A.L. 1924. Zur Erforschung der am Flussboden der Wolga lebenden Organismen. Monogr Biol Wolga Statt, 1: 1-398. In Cooke, W.M.B. 1956. Colonisation of artificial bare areas by microorganisms. The botanical review 22 (9): 613-638.

Bernascek, G.M. 1992. Large Dam Fisheries of the Lower Mekong Countries: Review and Assessment. Vol. 1 Main Report, Vol. 2 Database. Report prepared for the Mekong River Commission Project on Management of Reservoir Fisheries in the Mekong Basin. MKG/R. 97023.

Bhujel, R. C. 2009. Statistics for aquaculture. Iowa State University Press (United States of America). pp. 72.

Dodds, W. K. 2003. The role of periphyton in phosphorus retention in shallow freshwater aquatic systems. J. Phycol., 39, 840–849.

Hunt, B.P. 1952. Food relationship between Florida spotted gar and other organisms in the Tamiami Canal, Dade Country, Florida. Trans. Amer. Fish. Soc., 82: 13-33.

Jones, P.D., Cole, J.A., Slade. S., and Gregory, J.M. 1991. Reliable yield of reservoirs and possible effects on climatic change. Hydrological Sciences Journal, Vol. 36, pp. 579-597.

Saikia, S. K. and Das, D. N. 2009. Potentiality of Periphyton-based Aquaculture Technology in Rice-Fish Environment, J. Sci. Res., 1 (3), 624-634.

Saikia, S. K. and Das, D. N. 2010. First report on xeng fishery - a periphyton based aqaculture practice in Assam, India. SIBCOLTEJO, 05:102-106. ISSN: 0975-9867.

Sagir A. M .D. and Akther, H. 2008. Brush and Vegetation Park Fishery in the River Titas, Brahmanbaria, Bangladesh, South Pacific Studies Vol.29, No.1.

Senanayake, F. R. 1981. The athko kutu (brush-park) fishery of Sri Lanka. ICLARM

Newsletter, 4(4):20-21.

Suresh, V. R. 1999. Floating islands unique fish aggregating devices in Loktak Lake, Manipur. Fishing Chimes, 19:9-10.

van Dam A.A., Beveridge M.C.M., Azim M.E. and Verdegem, M.C.J. 2002. The potential of fish production based on periphyton. Rev. Fish Biol. Fish., 12:1-31.Wahab, M. A. and Kibria, M. G. 1994. Katha and Kua fisheries: unusual fishing methods in Bangaladesh. Aquaculture News, 18: 1- 24.

Welcomme. R.L. 1972 An evaluation of the acadja method of fishing as practiced in the coastal lagoons of Dahomey, West Africa. Journal of Fish Biology, 4: 39 — 55.

Young, O. W., 1945. A limnological investigation of periphyton in Douglass lake, Michigan. Trans. Amer. Micr. Soc., 64:1-20.

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