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•Farmers want govt support to increase production, as demand for seafood soars
From Obed Mpiegbulam, Port Harcourt
In Port Harcourt, the capital of Rivers State, the sale and consumption of fresh fish is currently experiencing an unprecedented boom.
The reporter learnt that fish farming in the state has been yielding tremendous results since the Federal Government announced agriculture as a veritable alternative to crude oil. Many now see fish farming as a lucrative business.
In Afikpo evening market, the fresh fish section is, more than ever before, witnessing increased patronage. Most homes are now preparing a lot more fresh fish soup and stew with which to enjoy rice. Hotels and drinking joints are recording increased number of customers who come to enjoy fresh fish delicacies.
At the weekends, the various joints are besieged by an army of customers who want to enjoy fresh fish. Tilapia and catfish are the preferred choices of many. Both have great taste. The middle class and the rich mostly go for them, no matter how costly they might be.
According to findings by Daily Sun, the upsurge in the consumption of fresh fish has compelled fishermen to redouble their efforts. Some unemployed residents have also converted their compounds to fish farms.
The Rivers State Songhai farms have large ponds for the growing of catfish. In riverine areas, breeding of a variety of fish has now become a good investment window, even as the cost of fish feed is now high.
Usually, women are the ones who engage in fresh fish sales. In the markets, they display fishes according to their size in big basins for customers to make their purchase from a choice of live fishes fresh from the waters, until 7.30pm. They stay for longer hours at weekends because of the high demand.
“Before now, we used to buy a bag of fish feed at N4,500, but now it is sold for N12,000,” lamented Favour Nathan, a big-time fresh fish trader in Afikpo street evening market. “Now we buy 18 big fishes at N15,000. The ones we used to buy for N27,700 before is now sold for N40,000.”
She affirmed that the days of high patronage were Fridays and Saturdays: “We make big sales on those days. We used to sell four to five basins of fish. But on every other day, we might sell like two basins, depending on what the market says. Even soup ingredient has become costly because of the bad economy.
“December is our season. That is when we make great sales because it is festival time. If the situation is good, restaurant operators buy more than 1,000 big fish, while big hotels buy more than 3,000 big fish. We are only six traders here on Afikpo Street but we have up to five selling points in town.”
Speaking on the way the fishes are preserved, she explained that, “You have to change the water in the basins every hour because dirt kills the fishes easily. We don’t sell dead ones. You pour clean water in the basin and add palm oil and kernel or banga, which they eat and stay alive for some months.”
While giving an insight into how the fishes are caught, an Ijaw woman, Preye Abel, asserted that fishing was the trade of the people, adding that catfish were easily caught in the creeks, ponds and rivers. Some farmers construct fishponds, especially during the dry season, between November and December. In those months, stranded fish in shallow waters could be caught with the bare hands, nets and traps even in the rivers.
“We also catch them with baskets under the water. The fishes eat banga or kernel. If they are well preserved in drums of water, they can last for as long as you change the water. I started fishing at 12. My parents come from Buguma and Abua areas, where fishing is a culture,” she said.
Giving tips on fish farming in ponds, Mr. Fredric Igbanibo Amakiri, an expert, said fish ponds could be done in a confined environment built for fish farming. He said it could also be done in a river or the sea, as long as a particular area could be barricaded for the fishes to be confined there.
“In the beginning, you have to hatch the type of fish you wish to farm. Tilapia or some other fishes naturally lay their eggs and later hatch their young ones. But in the case of the catfish, the eggs are extracted from their females, which are called ‘crude stock.’ The male sperms fertilise the eggs; they take 16 to 19 hours to hatch.
“By continuously changing their water and maintaining relevant temperature, they will grow. If the water is too cold or too hot they will die. They need to have controlled temperature to thrive. When they hatch, the lavas will emerge. Then there must also be confinement water and the temperature control box.”
He said, from then, the farmer begins to apply feeds for the fish to grow. Any type of fish could be bred, he explained, adding that the most common were tilapia and catfish. Other fishes, could be bred in rivers or in the open sea.
On the security of the fish ponds, he said fencing the pond was necessary to control human encroachment and make sure the fish were in good health. It would also to ensure that they were properly fed.
“Once you keep all these measures, the fishes will grow to be sold in kilogrammes. Customers order for them in advance, but that depends on their respective weights. Big hotels and restaurants will start booking. They are also sold to traders who buy as much as they can. Big hotels buy over 6,000 fishes,” Amakiri said.
He emphasised that if the fish business were properly managed, it could be profitable like every other endeavour.
However, losses could be incurred if the fishes were exposed to diseases, in which case, they might die in their thousands.
“One has to be careful in watching them. The moment you see that they are not eating or swimming well, it means that they are sick; one needs to call a vet doctor,” he said.
He said that ‘sorting’ prevents loss in big farms. He advised that the fish farmer must spend quality time in changing the water as well as feeding and sorting the fishes. He said: “As it’s in human, so it’s in animals’ lives. Some are faster in growing than the others. Once some fishes are 30 per cent bigger, they can eat up smaller ones. We prevent loss by sorting bigger ones of the same sizes and putting them into different, bigger ponds.”
He urged government support for farmers, noting that this was sure to boost the economy. He observed that the Western world was growing because of farming which he described as the biggest single business in the world at the moment.