Livestock Farming: Catfish Farming in Nigeria

Catfish farming is increasingly becoming an attractive form of agriculture for many Nigerians especially young people. Farming fish which belongs to the part of agriculture referred to as ‘aquaculture’ is catching the eye of many people as the prospects of profit, especially at first glance seem motivating enough.
 This form of agriculture has found a huge followers-base primarily due to the relative ease of culturing catfish, the readily available markets for catfish, e.g. with restaurants, especially as catfish is a treasured delicacy among many Nigerian cultures as well as the profitability of a successful catfish venture.
Many Nigerians involved in catfish farming use concrete ponds or plastic tanks. Both methods have their strengths and weaknesses and it is wise for the would-be catfish farmer to explore these perspectives before making a decision on which to adopt. While using concrete pond seems to be more natural to culturing catfish, plastic tanks can come handy where availability of space is a constraint. Using ponds also gives the farmer the leverage of culturing a relatively larger number of fishes as pond design can be tailored from the outset to match intended fish density. Culturing tanks are however limited in sizes and fixed, thus limiting the catfish farmer to stocking the tanks with a restricted number of fishes for best results.
African catfish usually takes an average of 5 months to reach table size. At this age they usually have attained an average weight of 1kg. The weight attained by catfish after 5 months is however variable depending on a number of factors that may include, quality of fingerlings used, quality of feeds, water management quality, absence of disease, stocking density among others. It is not uncommon to have fish weigh up to 1.5kg after five months.
The market price of African catfish is usually gauged per kg-weight of fish. This price varies across several geographical locations in Nigeria. On the average catfish can be sold for N450/kg in Lagos, N650/kg in Makurdi and 750/kg in Abuja. The market for catfish however is not lacking, irrespective of geographical location, disparities merely occur in the pricing of catfish: which is dependent on the dynamics of demand and supply.
Before venturing into catfish farming, it is pertinent to take a number of factors into consideration for success. Rearing catfish is not merely about buying fingerlings and ‘dumping’ them in a pond and then feeding them ‘thrice’ a day. From the outset the farmer should take time to put into consideration the following: quality of fingerlings, pond design, feeding program, water management and well as markets for harvested catfish.
Quality of Fingerlings: Catfish fingerlings are of different breeds, just like other species of animals. It is important that the catfish farmer takes his time to identify fast growing and disease resistant breeds of fingerlings to ensure profitability in a catfish venture. This can be done through appropriate consultation with a specialist in fingerlings and physically evaluating fingerlings from several farms before making a pick on stock of fingerlings.
Pond Design: Stocking density plays a huge role in the growth rate of cultured catfish. Like for all other animals over-crowding catfish would increase competition for resources like food and oxygen. This can promote the growth of some fish at the expense of others and in the end lead to cannibalism. Besides, pressure stresses due to over-stocking are bound to affect the all-round development of fish in the pond. Once stunted growth sets in from the outset it is bound to linger. Therefore the catfish farmer would want to consider an appropriate length, breadth and depth of pond, depending on his intended number of fishes to stock pond with. Also pond design should incorporate provision for the separation of fishes in the event that growth is non-proportionate to avoid cannibalism. Water management for pond would mean periodic changing of water and pond design should incorporate this from the outset to avoid challenges.
Feeding Catfish: This constitutes the bulk of the cost of rearing catfish, usually 60% and above. In most places  in Nigeria available catfish feeds are imported and cost an average of N5,500/15kg bag. A 15kg bag can take 700 two month old fishes just 10 days! While you are in a hurry to start reaping the profit from catfish culturing, be prepared beforehand for the challenge of feeding the fishes. Catfish can be fed once or twice a day. Excessive feeding of fingerlings increases the cost of rearing catfish and thus results in wastage as this may only result in marginal growth increases. Feeds are also a primary source of pond water pollution and excessive feeding constitutes a water management challenge. 
Thus the catfish farmer needs to strike a balance between feeding and water management. There are several subjective formulas used to determine an appropriate feeding program for fish. One is to provide as much feeds that fishes can finish in 5 – 10 minutes. This can then be used as the quantity of feed needed for ‘satiation’. Using this formula, catfish can be fed just once a day.

With respect to feeding catfish, an alternative for Nigerian farmers is the use of locally-made feeds. Unlike the imported counterpart, local feeds cost an average of N3,500/15kg bag without considerable growth implications. A challenge however would be to access sources of such local feeds as most parts of Nigeria are filled with the expensive imported feeds.
Water Management: A huge percentage of fish deaths have been related to water management issues. Pond design should take into consideration the pH of water (acidic water kills fish real fast, basic water is suitable for fingerlings and neutral water is required for fries (really tiny fishes)). It is also important to stimulate the growth of plankton by introducing manure into the pond before stocking with fingerlings. Oxygen requirement for fishes is dependent on an effective water management system as too much plankton growth results in competition for oxygen among plankton and catfish. Waste from fish as well as pollution from feeds also reduce the oxygen content of pond water, resulting in stresses on fish. An indication of declining oxygen is when fishes are seen for considerable periods on the water surface (trying to breathe better). Water should be replaced from time to time (though this can be a challenge in places where water availability is a problem).
This article is not specialized knowledge for the would-be catfish farmer but Food for Thought for anyone who intends to start a catfish farm. It is advisable to get specialized knowledge from appropriate sources. One such source for the Nigerian catfish farmer is the Corporate Fish Farm Nigeria website where a comprehensive catfish manual can be bought for just N5,000. Several internet sites would also provide ample knowledge on pond design, water management, managing catfish disease among others. For the Nigerian farmer also, it is important to be able to access markets for catfish (fingerlings, juveniles, table-sized fish, feeds, consultants, etc.). One invaluable resource in this regards is theFish Farmers Meet Buyers Website.
Subsequent articles on catfish farming will look at the technicalities involved in catfish farming as well as provide helpful guides to the Nigerian catfish farmer on accessing profitable catfish markets (without having to relinquish a good part of the profit to middle-men retailers).
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