I have often commented on the contrast between South Africa’s red tape-strangled aquaculture industry and the success stories in our neighbouring countries. This scenario continued to play out for much of 2015.
The year began on a relatively positive note, with several new and established farmers finally obtaining Nile tilapia operating permits. The trouble is that most of these were for Gauteng, with a scattering of others in the Western Cape, North West and Eastern Cape.
None was issued for Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal or Mpumalanga, where the culture of this species is most climatically suitable. As Nile tilapia is already extant in many parts of the Limpopo River and other northern catchments, it is hard to understand the rationale behind this. The industry will pursue the matter in 2016.
Following the issuing of permits, a few farmers imported founder broodstock. But apparently a number of illegal imports were also made. With the procedure for legal imports being so absurdly arduous, this is hardly surprising. The bureaucracy will only have itself to blame when alien tilapia species start appearing in surprising places.
I wonder how long it will take for officials to understand that making a justified activity difficult drives it underground, negating what they are striving to prevent. Those who tried to stay legal by obtaining permits then had to face the authoritarian callousness of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries’ Quarantine Station at OR Tambo International Airport.
Here, officials destroyed fish in contravention of the Animal Protection Act of 1962, and investigations are in process.
There is much stacked against the aquaculture industry in South Africa.
Further afield, the news is more positive. In Mozambique, despite complications with muddy water affecting primary productivity, the farm at Bela Vista now sells tilapia from its 26 half-hectare ponds. Unfortunately, due to the drought in South Africa, the Pongola River downstream in Mozambique (the Rio Maputo) has not flooded for some time, with the lower reaches in need of scouring.
In Zambia, two large projects are underway. Near Livingstone, 20 one-hectare ponds are flooded and mostly stocked, and the hatchery is well on its way to completion. By the end of summer 2016, substantial quantities of Oreochromis andersonii three-spot fingerlings will become available locally and to facilities in nearby Namibia and Botswana, where a shortage of quality fingerlings currently exists.
Another large tilapia farm, near Kasama in Zambia, is into the second half of construction. The hatchery is building up quantities of broodfish, while the massive half-hectare raceways are being completed. A feed plant currently supplies pelleted floating feed to the project, and will soon be supplying feed to other farmers in the area. Although electricity shortages have plagued Zambia, aquaculture is flourishing.
There is much interest in all neighbouring countries for large-scale tilapia projects. South Africa needs to catch up, but until the administration removes its smothering red tape, this is unlikely to happen soon.
Nicholas James is an ichthyologist and hatchery owner.