Aquaculture for beginners – Part 1

In this new series, Nicholas James will provide prospective tilapia farmers with a step-by-step guide on how to launch and run a successful aquaculture business in South Africa. We begin with the basics.

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Aquaculture appeals to a wide range of people, and it’s easy to see why. It is highly rewarding to see a shoal of tiny fry grow into fat, healthy fish in a system that keeps the water pure. For many, keeping and rearing fish is simply a hobby, while for others it has potential commercial prospects.

Intensively farmed livestock
How does a novice start out in this industry, and what are the guidelines that should be followed?

The first thing to understand is that aquaculture is simply intensive livestock rearing. To keep a large number of live animals in a small space, a thorough understanding of their environmental needs is essential and this must involve some biological research. The Internet is a good place to start, using ‘tilapia’ ‘biology’, ‘environmental requirements’ and ‘growth’ as key words.

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This will yield a wealth of information. Once you have learned that tilapia grow well only in warm water (as well as requiring other conditions), the next step is to research how this environment can be duplicated in an artificial system.

Simple, proven technology
At present, there is no tilapia growers’ manual specifically for Southern African conditions (watch this space). However, there are a number of books on tilapia culture available on the Internet. These include books by Prof AFM El-Sayed from Alexandria University in Egypt and Dr RC Bhujel from the Asian Institute of Technology in Thailand.While relatively expensive, they provide a good overview of many aspects of tilapia culture.

I try to avoid literature on the subject from the US and Europe because the types of systems discussed are too high-tech for African conditions. In our part of the world, spare parts, sales reps and emergency help are not always a phone call away. If such a system fails, as they invariably do at some point, it could result in huge mortalities among your fish. It is therefore preferable to use the simple, robust and clever technology developed in Egypt and Asia.

What not to do
Once you are acquainted with what goes into tilapia culture, look at what has been achieved locally. This means visiting as many farms or systems as possible. Unfortunately, this is sometimes where the problems start. South Africa, in contrast to neighbouring countries, is littered with failed fish farms devised by avaricious ‘system designers’ who have no track record of commercial success.

Nonetheless, it is good to view these systems, mainly to see how not to carry out certain aspects of tilapia culture. I advise a high degree of caution when listening to the claims that will invariably be made.

The following instalment in this series will detail the next steps a novice aquaculturalist should take.