Why Nigerian Fish Farmers Fail in Fish Farming.
1. No Market: Bad fish farmers start looking for a market for their fish when the fish are ready for sale. Meanwhile, because they are still feeding, the pond attains its maximum loading and fish stop growing. The longer the fish stay in the pond after they have stopped growing, the smaller the profit margin.
2. Poor Farm Siting: Such as in a place with inadequate water supply, poor soils for pond construction (e.g. may be rocky), far away from markets and/or supplies, etc.
3. Poor farm and facility design: Pond dikes not compacted properly, leak a lot, may be too shallow, and consequently construction and maintenance costs become too high while optimum yields are not achieved. Poor accessibility to ponds, requiring workers to walk across difficult terrain to transfer fish from pond to vehicle or vice-versa.
4. Poor Investment Plan: Several farmers assume that to be a commercial fish farmer one must have several large ponds. Hence, they construct many ponds at once, which constrains their cash flow. Because of this, some farmers take a while to start production or may only afford to start production in one pond after all the investment.
5. Lack of Technical Knowledge: Start production before knowing what management options are available or how to farm fish.
6. Do not employ the right people. Entrepreneurs employ the right people who are qualified for a specific job. Hiring family members who have little or no desire to learn proper fish farming techniques is a liability because most people find it difficult to dismiss them even after it has become apparent that they are the reason for the poor performance of the fish farm.
7. Absentee Owners/Managers: Manage farms by remote control or telephone. No direct involvement in production and management activities of the farm.
8. Irregular and improper feeding: This ranges from complete lack of knowledge about the nutritional requirements and feeding of catfish to attempts at saving money by using cheap feeds. Some farmers just do not feed their fish because they think fish will grow as long as they are in water. They do not realize that like all animals, best performance would be obtained if the fish have a balanced diet and that the feed needs to be palatable, easily digestible and does not disintegrate into the water before the fish can consume it. Fish should be fed with the correct feed of the right quality by a conscientious person who is aware that fish should be fed according to feeding response. Fish may not always feed with the same intensity. They may not want to consume much in bad weather or with a sudden change in temperature; fish may also not eat when they are sick.
9. Fail to Use the Best Person for Feeding: The person feeding fish should be conscientious and keen to observe the fish and know their habits. Feed is not to be dumped into ponds or tanks, but fed according to the fishes feeding response. Feed is expensive (up to 60-70% of operating cost) and only the best laborer can obtain a low feed conversion and lowest cost.
10. Does not understand management regimes: Do not appreciate that different management levels have different requirements which consequently affects stocking rates. Stocking rates are a function of the specific management regime.
11. Focus on few large fish rather than Volume Production: Being more impressed with harvesting the few large fish rather than looking at the overall picture and appreciating total tonnage at harvest. Survival rates and average fish size matter when raising table-fish, because profit margins above operational costs generally range between 10 to 30% depending on one’s market. The net income is therefore largely a function of turnover.
12. Do not keep records and do not assess performance to re-adjust management practices accordingly after each cycle. A farmer is therefore unable to tell whether a profit or loss will have been made. Having money in one’s pocket after a sale does not imply one has made a profit. Records must be kept on all aspects of management to help the farmer evaluate and correct his/her management practices, for improving production and putting together a business plan.
13. Hobby farmers who fail to harvest at the correct time, as though they are taking care of wild-life in a game park.
14. Wrong objectives for investing in aquaculture. Some do it simply because their friends are doing it or because they are targeting ‘free’ funds from donors or government. Nothing in this world is free. Always watch out for the hidden costs before making a final decision. Furthermore, pond or tank construction is costly and is not something one should undertake for the sake of it. Think objectively before you embark on fish farming. Farm fish as a business; as a source of employment and income for yourself and others. Invest in fish farming only if you have studied it and understand the challenges.
15. Expand the farm as a solution to low profit and yields. It is a bad business decision to expand a failing business without first finding out what the causes of the failure are and correcting them.
16. Believe consultants and newspaper reports that indicate fish farming requires little investment and results in huge profits. If it were that easy, everyone would be doing it. And the so-called consultants would be busy making money from growing fish; not from advertising their expensive training programs.
Adapted from Isyagi et al. 2009. Manual for the Commercial Pond
Production of the African Catfish in Uganda. FISH project Uganda. USAID.