AFRICA – Africa’s fish farming industry is undergoing a remarkable transformation, with cage aquaculture emerging as a promising frontier.
Despite facing inherent risks and challenges, this sector is experiencing unprecedented growth, driven by a combination of factors including declining wild fish stocks and increasing demand for fish.
From the shores of Lake Victoria to the aquaculture complexes of Angola, the story of fish farming in Africa unfolds as a compelling narrative of resilience and opportunity.
Late last year, Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest lake, witnessed a devastating disaster that left fish farmers reeling.
Thousands of fish perished due to a natural and recurring phenomenon known as upwelling, a grim event where deep waters mix with surface water, leading to a sudden depletion of dissolved oxygen, ultimately resulting in fish fatalities.
While some farmers speculated that increased levels of algae or pollution might have exacerbated the situation, the grim reality was that many, including Allan Ochieng, suffered substantial losses.
“It was horrible,” says Ochieng, who lost all 120,000 tilapias, with half of them almost ready for harvest. Ochieng, an entrepreneur with three partners, owns 24 cages near Ogal Beach on the Kenyan shoreline.
These cages represented a significant investment, totalling around US$285,000. They also spent an additional US$185,000 on baby tilapia, feed, and labour.
Despite these daunting challenges, Ochieng remained resolute, highlighting the enormous risks but also the immense profitability of cage fish farming.
Cage aquaculture has become one of the fastest-growing food sectors in sub-Saharan Africa, driven by declining wild fish stocks and increasing demand for fish.
A study published in Nature Food revealed that the number of cages surged from just nine in 2006 to more than 20,000 in 2019. In East Africa, the industry witnessed a threefold growth between 2017 and 2021, as reported by Gatsby Africa.
Leading the way in Sub-Saharan Africa is Yalelo Zambia, the largest tilapia producer, generating 25,000 tonnes of fish from its facilities on Lake Kariba in Zambia and the Ugandan side of Lake Victoria.
Kenya’s largest caged fish producer, Victory Farms, also relies heavily on data collection. CEO Joseph Rehmann details their approach, which encompasses monitoring underwater activity, assessing algae levels as an upwelling indicator, and checking water currents in case of reduced dissolved oxygen.
To further optimize their operations, Victory Farms developed technology to enhance the transport of live fish eggs to the hatchery. This mobile incubation system keeps the eggs in motion within oxygenated water, preventing losses during transit.
While the cage fish farming industry in Africa experiences robust growth, concerns persist regarding its environmental impact, including the accumulation of uneaten feed and fish waste under the cages.
Researchers emphasized the importance of responsible cage placement in deep waters with adequate circulation to mitigate these concerns.
Nonetheless, the growth of this industry presents opportunities for economic development in the region.
The newly inaugurated fishing complex in Zaire province, Angola, is a prime example. With the capacity to process 10,000 tons of fish monthly, it promises to create jobs and contribute to local and national economic diversification.