Cage fishing nets millions for community

Saturday January 27 2018

In Summary

Rio Holdings invested Sh5 million as capital in a new fishing method in Lake Victoria and despite a few teething problems, success is guaranteed.
Currently, there are four individuals, a school and a youth organisation who have a stake in the 26 fish cages the company owns.

Fish are contained and protected in lake until they can be harvested.

Harvest starts in the next few weeks and they have begun sourcing customers from Western region.

By BARACK ODUOR

When Nixon Shikuku visited Zambia and Uganda a few years ago, he learnt ‘how millions of money can be fished out of a lake’. The idea excited him so much that he not only decided to venture into the activity but also asked members of his community to join him. Shikuku, 45, an accountant, first approached his friend, Dave Oketch, and told everything he had learned about cage fishing from his travels. And in August 2016, Rio Holdings Limited which is based in Ong’ukwa beach in Homa Bay County, was born with Shukuku and Oketch as its directors. The company invested Sh5 million as capital for cages and other requirements such as feeds and boats. The company then invited individuals, schools, and youth and women groups in the region to join them.
All they were required to do was to purchase cages and let the company manage them on their behalf. “My main aim at the beginning of this project was to sensitise the locals on how to make money through cage fishing,” said Shikuku.

Currently, there are four individuals, a school and a youth organisation who have a stake in the 26 fish cages the company owns. A locally fabricated cage costs about Sh250,000. Nixon told Seeds of Gold that the company manages the cages for the individuals and the groups through a contract. To own a cage with the company, you must have a sizeable target market for the fish. “Those investing with us must show us where their target market is and its size,” says Oketch, Shikuku’s partner. The company has 16 small cages and 10 big cages. The small cages are locally modified and hold up to 5,000 fingerlings. Nixon says that the
mortality rate in each small cage can be up to 10 per cent.

“We usually harvest up to 4,000 fish from each small cage, this is equivalent to 2,000 tonnes,” he said. The company sells each kilogramme of the fish at Sh300, earning them Sh600,000 from each of the 16 cages during harvest.

APPROVAL OF AQUACULTURE EXPERTS
The company’s earnings from the small cages in their last harvest stood at Sh28.8 million. The small cages are harvested after every six months, and they’ve been harvested twice since the company began its operations.
The directors told Seeds of Gold that about Sh11 million goes to operations like purchase of feeds, paying owners of the cages the company keeps on their behalf and paying the workers.

The company recently purchased bigger cages made of plastic in China three months ago. “We decided to expand our caging by purchasing more elaborate cages from China which could bring more returns after a shorter period,” said Oketch.

The company purchased 10 bigger cages at Sh5 million. The cages are 10 metres in diameter and each can carry up to 35,000 fingerlings. “One big cage from China is equivalent to seven smaller cages. It means the bigger cages are set to double our incomes,” said Oketch. With each of the bigger cages holding 35,000 fingerlings and an approximated mortality rate of 10 per cent in each cage, the company projects to harvest 30,000 fish in each cage. Harvest starts in the next few weeks and they have begun sourcing customers from Western region. “The kind of fish we shall soon be producing cannot now be consumed locally, we must therefore seek buyers from a larger market,” said Shikuku.

Currently, the company supplies retailers in Homa Bay, Migori, Kisumu, Kisii and other neighbouring towns with fish. Event organisers who seek the delicacy for their guests are their biggest customers. The company currently has 10 employees including a security guard manning the cages, but with the increased investment, they are seeking to recruit additional 10 employees for the oncoming harvest. “The number of our employees is currently 10, but it is set to rise to 20 given the 10 more cages from China,” said Shikuku.

They source their fingerlings from local suppliers but with the approval of aquaculture experts who advise them on the quality. Currently, they acquire fingerlings from Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (Kemfri) and Lake View Fisheries Company in Mfang’ano Island.

CHALLENGES INVOLVED
Kemfri is also offering its expert advice to the firm on how to manage the cages for maximum yields.  “Kemfri officials have been of help to us because they offer us technical assistance on how to manage the cages as this is a new concept of farming to most locals here,” said Oketch.

According to George Mboya, an aquaculture expert in Homa Bay County, the part of the lake where the company has chosen to do cage fishing is the best for the activity.

This is because there is no water hyacinth infestation throughout the year and there are also a lot of waves available which translates to more oxygen getting dissolved into water, and this results to faster growth of fish.

“This part of the lake usually does not suffer water hyacinth infestation, therefore the people doing cage fishing here get two harvests in a year as opposed to other regions where water hyacinth is rampant,” said Mr Mboya.

The company has opted for higher quality feeds from nutritious pellets from international companies like Halla Aqua which have been in the aquaculture business for a long period. With the new Chinese cages, the company aims to produce about 20,000 tonnes per year.

Despite the success of the company, the investors have faced several challenges. First, they have lost many cages and fish to thieves. “Vandals have occasionally raided our cages, stealing them and removing fish. However, we have currently installed a security guard house modified to float on the water to stem the challenge,” said Mr Oketch.

They also explain that diseases like bacterial tail and fin rot attack fish if proper care and treatment is not accorded to them. Mr Mboya says that fin rot is associated with polluted and unsanitary conditions in hatcheries. “Fin rot in fish cages can be prevented by ensuring workers get into the cages with clean gumboots and diving devices,” he added.

At a Glance
What is cage fishing?
According to Wikipedia, fish cages are placed in lakes, bayous, ponds, rivers, or oceans to contain and protect fish until they can be harvested. The method is also called “off-shore cultivation”when the cages are
placed in the sea. They can be constructed out of a wide variety of components. Fish are stocked in cages, artificially fed, and harvested when they reach market size. A few advantages of fish farming with cages are that many types of waters can be used (rivers, lakes, filled quarries, etc.), many types of fish can be raised, and fish farming can co-exist with sport fishing and other water used of a wide variety of components.

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