By Chrispin Inambao
ECHO Fish Farm at Hardap wants to double annual output for fresh water tilapia by securing a foothold on key emerging niche markets in Angola, Botswana, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Zambia where there is a high demand for fresh-water fish.
From its humble beginnings a decade ago when it was initially mooted, output for high-breed tilapia, Mozambique tilapia, carp and catfish species, has drastically grown in leaps and bounds from a harvest of a mere ton in a year to significantly the present 10 tons.
For now annual production of fish for local consumers ranges between 8 to 10 tons at the farm whose burning ambition is to double output to 20 tons if it is to make any profit.
Its manager Fritz Nasilowski says electricity limitations resultant from the transformer installed thirty years ago, that can only provide a maximum of 1.1 kilowatts of power to oxygen and water re-circulation units, have caused expansion plans not being put in motion.
For now expansion plans seem to have been shelved because of this power crunch, though the only way Echo Fish Farm would be able to sail through these troubled waters is by expansion.
Because of this infrastructural handicap, he says, “We are still in the baby shoes.”
Unlike the species bred in nature, the high fish densities in these types of farms result in oxygen being depleted at a much faster rate in a given cubic metre of water, and this has to be replenished by the way of an electricity-powered oxygen blower to ensure survival.
To prevent staleness the water in these giant ponds has to be re-circulated constantly to ensure quality tilapia fish species by re-circulation pumps that are powered by electricity.
“The local demand is there – we are aiming at opening an outlet in Windhoek and we are also looking to expanding to the rest of Africa in Angola, Botswana, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe,” said Nasilowski who for now only sells his fish at the farm.
Tilapia is packed in 5-kg boxes, frozen and eventually sold for N$100 per unit mostly to people from nearby Mariental and Windhoek and who see fish as a healthy alternative.
Many of the aquaculture farms established by the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources and scattered around Namibia as part of the government’s multi-thronged strategy for poverty alleviation have been getting their fingerlings from Echo, the only private-run fish farm.
“Our densities (that is the number of fish per cubic metre of water) are high. If a water pump breaks down we have to repair it immediately,” he says as a matter of fact.
Located 25 kilometres north of Mariental, Echo Fish Farm comprises five 100 cubic metre dams, 12 thirty cubic metre and two 600 cubic metre ponds of water stocked with various fresh water fish species, the main one being high-breed tilapia. A cubic metre of water is equivalent to a thousand litres meaning each of the biggest ponds contain 600 000 litres.
“Additionally to the high breed tilapia we do also have Mozambique tilapia, carp and catfish,” explained Nasilowski at the farm adjacent to the Fresh Water Fish Institute.
Unlike wild river and lake species that take three to four years to mature, this fish which is fed on fish-meal pellets take from 12 to 14 months to reach the market size of 700g to 800g.
Fresh water fish farming keeps his hands busy as he has to ensure quality water from the Hardap Dam is continuously fed into the dams, that the water is sufficiently oxygenated and the shoals of tilapia, carp and catfish unlike wild species are fed thrice a day.
“That is why this fish grows faster than in nature because you have control over the water quality, oxygen et cetera,” he said, adding that this farm consists of a breeding area, a hatchery, a nursery where fry are looked after and the ‘grow out’ area.
And the harvesting of this fish has to be systematic to minimize stress among farmed fish.
But the limited infrastructure now compels Nasilowski to make do with the little he has as when he once in a year completely stops breeding during the ‘grow out period’ by separating male fish from females and placing them in different ponds to enhance growth.
Separating male from female fish to make room for the ‘grow out’ phase is not the ideal of scenarios and he is of the opinion he needs to slash down his losses by restocking the ponds immediately he has made a harvest and that this will make the farm cost-effective.
For now the staff strength of this farm stands at 23 full-time employees and its owner is Ivo de Couvea who is also the brains behind Overberg Fishing Company.
Farming fish on a commercial basis in Namibia is gradually proving to be viable though experts have previously said a lack of funding has continuously prevented this fledgling but promising aquaculture industry from taking off on a large scale like marine fisheries.
Despite being constrained by the unavailability of adequate financial resources, fish farming has the potential to boost Namibia’s food security and it has potential to bolster foreign exchange earnings from exports.
Namibians intending to venture into this industry say a lack of collateral results in them being precluded from applying for bank loans.
Fish farming like other types of farming is a risky business that requires special knowledge and skills. But farm-reared fish is free from disease and could be a more desirable substitute for wild fish from potentially polluted rivers.
Fish are also excellent animals to rear because they can convert feed into tissue more efficiently than most farm animals, transforming about 70 percent of their feed into flesh.
Fish is also a healthy food that is low in calories and cholesterol levels but rich in protein.