Staying Afloat in Fish Farming amid Rising Input Cost

 Omolabake Fasogbon.

With about two percent contribution to national economy, fish farming remains one of Nigeria’s lucrative businesses. The business has the capacity to rival oil sector earnings if given the required support and attention by government.

However, promising as its outlook, players in this sector have had it tough in recent times, forcing not a few out of business. Available report showed that over 60 per cent of fish farmers have been forced to shut down, with existing ones struggling to stay afloat. 

Their reasons are not farfetched – High operating costs, access to market, inflation and climate change, amongst others. The mass exodus of fish farmers may perhaps account for 2.5 million metric tonnes fish deficit in the country, amid 3.6 million tonnes annual demand.

Although, Nigeria has been finding closure in importing frozen fish, experts worry that this was causing more harm than good to the economy.  To bridge fish production gap, an aquaculturist, Steve Okeleji, said Nigeria would need to raise 400,000 new fish farmers. 

But 400,000 new entrants seem unrealisable looking at it from market trends and popular negative impression about the industry in recent times.

Managing Director of Melody Farm Food& Sea Food Processor, Mrs. Adetola Modupe, has a contrary opinion.  Admitting challenges, Modupe maintained that the sector is remunerative as she referenced her survival experience for 18 years that she has been in the business. 

According to Modupe who rears catfish and Tilapia, fishery business requires adjusting with environment and market trends for operators to remain. She noted that there are some basic rudiments of fish rearing that cannot be compromised. These she listed to include water temperature, oxygen level and balanced diets, amongst others.

Recounting her journey in catfish venture, she said she started from hatching fishes in which her first try was able to produce over 10,000 catfish fries (newly hatched fish). 

She said she ended up recording glut which forced her to sell them at a giveaway price, against the value of inputs in nurturing them to growth. The fish entrepreneur said she later resorted to buying fries from a breeder, but recently experienced high mortality rate owing to the tiny sizes of fries.

She again switched to buying next to fry which is ‘Ijebu’, still experiencing same mortality rate, she eventually settled for fingerlings which is a bit bigger in size.

She explained, “I decided to switch to fingerlings when fries and Ijebu reduced in sizes. What we buy as fingerlings now was what they sold as either fry or Ijebu before the economy became bad. Meanwhile, the smaller the fish, the higher mortality risk.

“Before I switched, I realised I was losing up to 4000 fishes when I buy say 10,000 fries, this is also because they would have eaten themselves, being carnivores. Although in fishery, one gives room for mortality which is inevitable, but the loss I made from fries and Ijebu after the whole economy issue started wasn’t encouraging, hence, reinvented.” 

Modupe maintained that fish farming offers a pool of opportunities for investors when they go about it the right way. Noting that the industry is large, she said every different segment in fishery offers gainful business opportunities. 

“One may decide to focus on hatchery by selling early stage fries to rearers like me. As a rearer too, I do not necessarily have to wait for the fish to grow to full maturity before making money, I sell at different growth stage like juvenile or jumbo to also rearers like me who   will nurture to full growth.

“I make my profit here and still do by selling live fully grown fish, although I seldom sell live fish as I now major in fish processing (smoking). Once my fish become of age, I harvest them for processing,” she explained.

She pointed out that retailing in fishery seems to be most profitable in the value chain and a viable income source for retirees, students, housewife, unemployed or any worker seeking a second income. 

“In fact, it is mostly profitable for live catfish retailers. When they buy a kilo (two pieces) at N3,000 from us, they are able to sell the two pieces to consumers at N6000, making 100 percent profit,” she added. 

Avowing that many operators could not cope with soaring feed prices and electricity tariff, she found a way around this. 

On how she is navigating the challenge, the farmer said, “I found feeding adjustment necessary this period. You can imagine that in June alone, feed prices soared on four occasions. Unfortunately, we can’t start increasing prices of fish according to this trend, else we will eat our produce ourselves.

“What I did was to reduce the quantity of feeds given to fishes but I still maintain the same timing. This does not affect them in any way. Moreover, since I started paying N10, 000 for 46 units of electricity as against previous 148 units, I went from changing water in fish tank every other day to once in a week. Well, my fish still grow healthy. 

“I have come to realise that too much feeding of fish is often counterproductive. But essentially, I had to reduce the quantity of feed given them because I can’t afford to be pumping water every other day given the tariff. Meanwhile, the more you feed fish, the more they pollute the water, which becomes riskier if the water is not changed. So with less feeding, the water retains it sanity for up to one week”

Of importance too, Modupe emphasised getting fish feeding calculation right from the start, to achieve commensurate return on investment. 

“Feeding of fish at the very first stage of their life is most important. For instance, at the very early stage, their feeding every three hours can’t be compromised. Imported feeds like Aller Aqua or coppens are strongly recommended to strengthen their growth and development so they don’t become runt. Note that as they grow too, their feed sizes (millimeter) and types change.

“At fingerlings stage (four weeks) feeding can reduce to twice a day. From two -month old, one may start feeding them on homemade feed which of course should contain right ingredients or formula,” she added.

Of note too is the feeding approach of fishes that would end up being processed. 

 Modupe said, “For fish that will end up being smoked, you avoid feeding them too much to achieve good smoking outcome and gains too. In this case, you avoid feed type that quickens fish growth and fat like Aqualis.

“This, however, may be a good option for those who sells live fish. For processors, Eco float feed type is advised.” 

Modupe spent more time educating on timely sorting of fishes in the pond which she said may make or mar the business. Sorting here which means grouping of fish of same sizes together, will prevent big fish from devouring smaller fishes. 

She said this process also underscores the essence of manpower on farm.

“I recently lost thousands of fishes due to late sorting. Sorting should be done at least every two weeks to prevent high mortality. It wasn’t deliberate that I didn’t sort the fishes I lost, but I had no one to do it then and because age is no longer on my side, I couldn’t do it myself. I recorded huge loss just because of manpower gap,” she added.

She further emphasised proper financial management, noting that many men dropped out of the business because of financial indiscipline and may be- heavy family responsibilities. 

“You must have a record for your profit/ loss and monthly earnings to enable you plan your spending. This is what has sustained me thus far. Besides, I tried to plough back profit from catfish processing to other business within fishery circle, leveraging existing equipment to earn more money.Above all, doing fishery comes with learning which is unending”, Modupe submitted. 

“Don’t be surprised that in my in business, I’m still learning. When I’m at a crossroad, I still return to my lesson notes from all the training schools I attended.  Being a member of associations like Lagos State Catfish and Allied Association of Nigeria and the Small Scale Women Farmers Organisation in Nigeria has helped in no small measure to put me on track.” 

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