By DOROTHY KANTINI
ZAMBIA is a land-linked country with an abundance of water bodies which contribute to not only its beauty but also as a source of energy through dams, food through fish farming, and income through tourism and aquaculture.
The country is enriched with rivers, lakes, swamps, hot springs and dams some of which are shared with neighbouring countries such as the great Zambezi River shared among Zambia, Angola, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique; Lake Kariba shared with Zimbabwe, Lake Mweru with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Lake Tanganyika shared among Zambia, DRC and Tanzania.
Due to the abundance of water bodies, fish farming or aquaculture is a huge part of the country’s identity.
Many families, and especially smallholder fish farmers, make a living out of fish farming and thus, provide food for their households.
Fish companies like Lake Harvest, Capital Fisheries and Yalelo in Eastern Province also have their fish bred in Zambia and sold countrywide.
It’s because of the socio-economic benefits derived from fish farming both at household and national level that the Zambian Government attaches great importance to the promotion and development of the aquaculture sector in the country.
According to the Second National Agricultural Policy’s implementation plan of 2016 to 2020, some of the measures that the Zambian Government is applying in an effort to develop the aquaculture sector include promotion of the stocking and restocking of natural water bodies, ponds and dams, as well as promotion of the access to fish seed or fingerlings.
Government, in trying to preserve the country’s fish species, also limits the use of any explosives, fire arms, mosquito nets, or any other tiny-hole nets from being used as fishing gears especially in capture fisheries. These regulations are stated under section 15 of the 2011 Fisheries Act.
In addition, Government enforces a fishing ban annually which runs between the periods 1st December to 1st March, so as to allow the fish to breed and multiply in readiness for the fishing season.
However, during this period when the fishing ban is active, most smallholder fish farmers find it hard to cope with the unavailability of fish to sustain their livelihoods and as a result, some of them defy the regulations just to have access to fish .
But there’s an alternative to this downside for the smallholder fish farmers.
Chipata District Fisheries Assistant Technician, Emmanuel Mwango says making a fish pond for small-scale fish production is advised since the fishing ban is not applicable to personal fish ponds.
By definition, a fish pond is simply a reservoir that is stocked with fish and is used in aquaculture for fish farming, recreational fishing or for ornamental purposes.
“Fish ponds can be used as alternative sources of income by fish farmers during this period when the fishing ban is in effect, as well as to sustain the supply of nutrients at household level,” he said in interview.
So, what does a fish farmer need to do to have a fish pond of their own?
According to Mr. Mwango, there are a few essential steps that need to be undertaken before a fish pond can be established.
First, it is advised that the farmer intending to establish a fish pond consult a Fisheries Assistant Technician closest to their area who would carefully state the steps needed for the construction of a pond, as well as explain the do’s and don’ts of managing a pond .
“This is for the Department of Fisheries’ inventory as we need to know how many ponds are there and how fast growing they are. It is also our duty to have a record of every fish farmer in the country,” he said.
According to section 46 of the Fisheries Act of 2011, “an authorised officer may inspect any site proposed for the establishment of an aquaculture facility to determine the suitability or otherwise of such site for use as an aquaculture facility upon payment of such inspection fee…”
During this inspection, the Fisheries Assistant Technician checks for the soil structure which must be clay-loam.
Clay-loam is that soil which is composed of sand, silt and clay.
“The clay-loam soil has the ability to retain nutrients and water which is why it is suitable for fish farming,” he says.
The second stage in making a fish pond, according to Mr. Mwango, is called pegging.
This is the process of providing landmark of where the pond should be.
The Fisheries Assistant Technician is the one who advises on the exact area to undertake pegging.
“This landmark must be 10 by 15 meters or more. Anything less is not considered a fish pond. This is essential for the movement and space of the fish,” he said.
Mr. Mwango stated that the security of the pond is one of the essential parts of owning a pond and so it should not be made far away from a home or if that is the case, then a security cottage must be built near it to have someone watching over the pond in order to prevent theft.
After construction of the pond, the pond walls must be covered with any type of grass.
Mr. Mwango said that the reason for this is to hold the soils firm thus, preventing erosion.
Further, after the area and construction of the fish pond have been approved by the Fisheries Director, in accordance with the Fisheries Act, what remains is the construction of the fish pond itself, its environment and stocking of the pond with selected types of fish for breeding.
According to Mr. Mwango, the first thing to do is to insure that the water is fertilized using organic manure for the nutrition of the fish.
“It is an added advantage to keep livestock near the pond so as to make fertilization easy,” he says.
Mr. Mwango mentioned that the best breeds to stock a newly constructed pond are the Cat fish, the three-spotted bream (Oreochromis Andersonii) which can attain a growth of up to 3 Kilogrammes in 7 years but only 400g in a fish pond over a period of six months assuming all conditions and nutritional requirements are favourable.
The green-headed bream (Oreochromis Macrochir) is the second type of fish he advised to be used for starting up your fish pond as it attains the same growth pattern as the three-spotted bream.
The third breed is the red-breasted bream (Tilapia Rendalli) also known as impende, pembe or nkundu. It can attain the growth of 2 kg in 7 years but only 300g in a pond over a period of six months assuming all conditions are favourable.
“Nile Tilapia (Oreochromis Niloticus) can attain a growth of 3 kg in 7 years but only 300-400g in a fish pond over a period of six months equally dependable on the nutritional conditions of the pond,” Mr. Mwango said, “These fish feed on the zooplankton and take both vertebrate and invertebrates usually made accessible by regular fertilization of the water.”
He said other feed is made using rice bran or maize bran and mixed with sunflower cake, soya beans cake or groundnut cake in specific amounts.
The rice bran and maize bran act as carbohydrates while the cakes act as proteins.
The breams are tolerant to a wide range of temperatures, 11-37 degrees. They prefer blackish waters, floodplain and swamps making them very suitable for ponds because they act a comfort zone for them.
“However, be cautious of your choice of fish in relation to your locality. For instance, some sections of society do not consider the cat fish as food so, if you breed the cat fish, you may not sell them as the rate you desire,” Mr. Mwango said.
With regards to pond management, Mr. Mwango stressed that the fish needed to be treated like pets because they were in a confined area and needed to be taken care of.
“A Fisheries Technician may be able to teach the pond owner on what food the fish should be fed and how to make the feed,” said Mr. Mwango.
After all is set and the fish are settled, the rest is a walk in the park.
Aquaculture is a vital contributor to the survival and nutrition of mankind and must be taken more seriously.
Everyone should have access to fish because of its high and rich nutritional value. However, we must be careful not to deplete this natural resource but preserve it for the future generation to equally have access to it. NAIS