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All is not well for cage fish farmers

Cage fish farming in Anyanga beach. The swelling lake has affected the movement, feeding and growth of fish. [Isaiah Gwengi].

Samwel Okinyi stares at the waters lashing at his wooden boat with unrestrained anger. He is unable to access his cages that are about 100 metres from Anyanga Beach in Bondo sub-county.

The deafening rattle of paddles drown out the bustle of excited children playing at the shore.

But for Okinyi, a cage fish farmer, the feeling is one of betrayal. Fishing that has been his source of livelihood for more than three years has turned into a loss-making venture for the last four months.

The least he can do is lean against the boat and let his thoughts wander to the recent past, when he would access his cages easily, get a ready market and get money in return.

“The increased water level in Lake Victoria has greatly affected us. Accessing the landing sites and also the cages has been a problem,” explains Okinyi as he leans further against the boat and scratches his head.

Other than accessibility and the dwindling market, Okinyi says that the farmers are also experiencing post harvest losses due to lack of storage facilities.

Beside Okinyi is another farmer with an even gloomier face. Benard Ohanga looks at the sprawling lake with portent curse.

“The swelling water swept most of the fingerling production ponds including mine and thus making the seeds (fingerlings) less available to fish farmers,” says Ohanga.

Ohanga, who is slowly recovering from the loss, tells Smart Harvest that the most affected was the market.

“The accessibility of the landing sites has greatly impacted the flow of fish feeds due to transport hitch and other factors, thus hiking the feed prices as well,” he explains.

For Tedds Onguka, another pioneer cage fish farmer in Bondo, the swelling water has interfered with the growth rate of fish and hence delayed maturity.

“Tilapia does well when the water is warm.  With the current climatic condition that has rendered the water too cold, the movement and feeding pattern of our fish has changed,” explains Onguka.

Onguka, who could harvest thrice a week, now says that he has been receiving a lot of requisition from his customers, but the supply is low due to a number of factors.

He says that this ecological change has taken a toll on the normal capture fishing in Lake Victoria.

According to Dr Christopher Aura, Assistant Director of Freshwater Systems Research at the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI), Kisumu Centre, some farmers have now put so many fish in the cage whose depth is shallow, so the fish end up competing for space and oxygen, resulting in too many fish dying of suffocation.

“The recommended depth for placing cages is 10 metres (33ft) or deeper. And the location of the cages ought to be properly demarcated so they do not interfere with breeding sites, hence the fish progeny,” explains Dr Aura.

He says that with the increased water levels that has made many farmers not to go far, some have installed cages in depths as shallow as 6metres (20ft) or less.

Dr Aura explains that placing the cages at great depths encourages maximum water exchange.

“This promotes large supply of dissolved oxygen, otherwise the fish will suffocate,” he says.

According to Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI) assessment report on the socio-economic impact of cage fish farming in Lake Victoria released in May, the approximate number of cages recorded was 5,236, with Siaya County leading with 3,855, Homa-bay County 899, Kisumu County 342, Busia County 100, and Migori County 40 cages.

Anyanga beach in West Yimbo ward recorded the highest number of cages at 3000, followed with Victory farm at 335 cages, and Ogal beach at 256 cages.

The report also indicated the harvesting cycle for caged fish was one year per cage while the preferred fish market size at harvesting was 0.5kgs, although the sizes ranged between 0.3kgs – 2kgs depending on the prevailing market demand.

With less than four months to December – which is the market peak for majority of the cage fish farmers, the affected farmers are now staring at a loss.

“Most of the farmers have been staggering their harvest with an aim of meeting the market demands in December. This will however not happen this time round because of the prevailing challenges,” says Onguka.

While Onguka, Ohanga and Okinyi have weathered the storm to stay afloat, some farmers like Monica Akinyi have been pushed out of the business.

Akinyi, who was a fish trader, says that she decided to venture into other businesses after she failed to get enough supply of fish.

“I had three cages but with the current challenges, am not able to get enough fish to take to the market. I decided to pull them out as I wait for things to improve," she says.

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