The Department of Aquatic Biology and Fisheries is one of the oldest teaching-cum-research departments of the University of Kerala, which had its inception way back in 1936 as the Marine Biology Laboratory and Aquarium (headed by the internationally renowned Marine Biologist, late Prof. C.C. John) of the erstwhile Travancore University. This research wing of the Kerala University had been offering M. Sc. (by research) and Ph.D. courses in Marine Biology and Fisheries. The implementation of the Fishery Development Scheme in 1946 was a landmark in the development of the Laboratory. The Estuarine Research Station, located at Ayiramthengu, near Kayamkulam, of the Marine Biology Laboratory started experiments to culture and breed important estuarine food fishes. The Marine Biology & Fisheries Laboratory was the pioneer research institution to demonstrate artificial manuring of fish ponds and to conduct detailed studies in breeding, feeding and culture of brackishwater food fishes such as mullets, milkfish and pearl-spot. The Marine Station at Cape Comorin of the Laboratory took up the work of exploring the continental shelf and charting out the fishing grounds and started experimental fishing in these areas to find out the possibilities of large-scale commercial fishing.
In 1958, the Laboratory started two new courses: M. Sc. in Marine Biology and M. Sc. in Oceanography. Meanwhile, with a view to expanding the research activities of the Marine Biology & Fisheries Laboratory, proposals were submitted for starting a full-fledged department at Cochin. Consequently, the new Department of Oceanography started functioning at Cochin in 1962, as a subunit of the parent laboratory at Trivandrum. The parent laboratory by then formed part of the newly formed University of Kerala. Further, the two M. Sc. courses, which were being offered by the parent laboratory at Trivandrum, were, in 1964, transferred to the Department of Oceanography at Cochin. Besides, the major portion of the equipment, books, journals and furniture from the Marine Biology & Fisheries Laboratory was transferred to the new department and the parent laboratory at Trivandrum was reduced to a field unit of the new department at Cochin. The remnants of the parent Marine Biology & Fisheries Laboratory, along with its Fishery Technology Section and Aquarium, remained under the Kerala University. In 1972, based on the recommendations of Padmasree Prof. N. Balakrishnan Nair, who took charge as Professor & Head of the Laboratory, the laboratory was renamed as Department of Aquatic Biology & Fisheries and it widened its research activities to different aspects of freshwater, brackishwater and marine habitats.
The most covetable facility of the Marine Biology Laboratory and Aquarium, and later of the Department of Aquatic Biology & Fisheries, as also one of the most sought after educational and tourist attractions, was a marine and freshwater Aquarium, one of Asia’s finest aquaria, which the Department successfully maintained until 1999, at its parent campus at Sanghumughom, Trivandrum, until the department was shifted to the Kariavattom Campus of the University consequent on the Southern Air Command taking over the parent campus.
Considering the progress of the work and the contribution to the field of aquatic biology and fisheries, in 1978, the department was supported by the UGC under its DRS Programme and by using this assistance (Rs.10 lakh), the department carried out specific research programmes relating to Environmental Biology of the major backwater systems of Kerala.
Based on the meritorious work carried out under the DRS Programme, in 1985, the department was selected by the UGC for its Special Assistance Programme (SAP) to implement the thrust area programmes in Ecology, Biology, Aquaculture and Microbiology. An amount of Rs.32 lakh was allotted by the UGC, and a matching grant of Rs.5 lakh by the DOD for the purchase of equipment. In 1994, the department was sanctioned Rs.18.6 lakh by the UGC to continue the SAP II Phase and in 2000 Rs.32.8 lakh for the III Phase of SAP programme. In 2008, the status of the department was raised to the covetable Centre for Advanced Studies in Aquatic Biology and Fisheries (CAS) by the UGC and grant of Rs.72.5 lakh was sanctioned to the department for the first phase.
In the meanwhile, in 1995, UGC brought this department under its COSIST Programme and sanctioned a lump-sum grant of Rs.39.55 lakh, a recurring Contingent grant of Rs.1 lakh per annum and recurring Maintenance of Equipment grant of Rs.1.5 per annum. Further, in 2003 the DST brought this department under its prestigious FIST Programme and awarded Rs.40.5 lakh for improving the infrastructural facilities in the department for carrying out its teaching and research programmes in the area of fisheries/fish pathology. During 2008-09, the UGC had sanctioned the department a sum of Rs.50 lakh for infrastructure development and 5 JRFs under its programme “UGC Research Fellowships in Sciences, Bio-sciences, Agriculture Sciences, Medical Sciences and Engineering Sciences for Meritorious Students”
In 1975 the department started a one-year M. Phil. Programme and in 1984 a two-year M. Sc. programme in Aquatic Biology & Fisheries, which are continuing uninterruptedly till date. It is a covetable achievement that more than 90% of the manpower generated by the department is successfully serving both within the country and abroad in various capacities in the teaching and research fields in aquatic biology and fisheries.
The Department of Aquatic Biology and Fisheries had until 1985 a strong faculty strength of 13 members including a Biostatistician, catering to the various aspects of teaching and research in this multidisciplinary subject.
Similarly, for the proper running of the Aquarium, the department had a Curator and Asst. Curator supported by a 3-member team of establishment employees.
The department and its parent institution, the Marine Biology Laboratory, had during the past contributed phenomenally to the field of Aquatic Biology and Fisheries.