By Malachi Motano

Joseph Rehmann and Steve Moran are the co-founders of Victory fish farms at Sindo beach in Homabay County. Instead of digging fish ponds on the land a common model of fish farming in Kenya they ventured into commercial cage fish farming.

Rehmann. “With the dwindling local fish stocks, we saw an opportunity and took it up. Our first batch of fish were put into the water in June 2016 and by the end of last year, our daily production was way above 2,000 tonnes.”

Victory Farms today has more than 100 deep-water cages located almost a kilometer or a 10-minute boat ride offshore.

According to Rehmann, these cages hold fish (tilapia) are ranging from two to six months old. In this type of environment, strong currents flush through the cages throughout the day, and create favourable conditions for the fish.

Rehmann, “This means the fish are raised in an environment that mirrors that of wild tilapia. The response of the customers has been favourable, and the pickiest of connoisseurs is unable to distinguish between wild type and our cage-produced tilapia.”

He explains that the cages are 36 square meters, holding about 5,000 fish fingerlings each. Last year, Victory Farms produced 300,000 units of fish with an average of 80,000 tonnes per month for the local market. The firm plans to double that figure this year.

The fish have a 10-month growth cycle, which ensures that they remain available in the market and at the firm’s cold storage centres in Sindo and Nairobi’s Ruaka area — which serves Nairobi and its environs.

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Fish mongers buy the fish from $3 to $4 per kilo while hotels and other hospitality establishments get the same quantity for up to $4.5 per kilo.

“Right now, we don’t have any regional expansion plan but we want to increase the size of our facility here at Sindo Beach. Our permit is for 10,000 tonnes and going by our daily tonnage, we still have a great opportunity to expand this farm,” he said.

On the shores of Lake Victoria, the farm also runs a fish hatchery, a processing facility and a sales distribution network that extends to Nairobi.

Currently, the country produces only 200,000 tonnes of fish against a demand of almost one million tonnes.

Rehman, “Over the past two decades, local fishermen have seen their catch of tilapia drop by almost 50 per cent, yet the population growth has doubled. This has seen dwindling fish stocks from the traditional artisanal fishing. Caged fish farming offers an opportunity to correct this.”

The fish are fed three times daily — twice in the morning and once in the afternoon — on a mix of local and imported feed, averaging four tonnes per week.

The cage managers are tasked with checking the water temperature, oxygen levels, water clarity and cleaning the nets to avoid clogging, which ensure the fish thrive in the best of natural environment.

At the start, the farm had 50,000 Nile tilapia. This number has grown to more than 1 million in two years. The farm also runs a hatchery producing up to 200,000 fingerlings per week.

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Yet this kind of rapid growth is not without its challenges, and takes a special kind of perseverance.

Fish farming in Kenya is very costly and unlike counties like China, Kenya has to import the fish feeds which is expensive,” said Mr Moran.

Of the 225 employees at Victoria Farms, 150 are on permanent terms. The others are on casual engagement. The farm’s distribution network brings in more than 400 women who buy fish from its storage facilities both in Homa Bay and Nairobi.

For anyone with even a passing knowledge of fish, there can also be an uglier side to the aquaculture industry.

Poorly managed operations, primarily in Southeast Asia have left environmental damage in their wake and this is something that the country could face, if the right policies are not put in place.

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