ARCHITECT WHO FELL IN LOVE WITH FISH AND NOW RUNS A HATCHERY

Fredrick Gichui, the owner of Athi Fish Farm and Hatchery. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL  NATION MEDIA GROUP |

By ELIZABETH MERAB
Seeing fish dart in water makes me happy. It reminds me that one should enjoy doing what they love. I went into commercial catfish farming about three years ago.
I have a five-acre fish farm in Athi River on the outskirts of Nairobi, where I produce fingerlings using the Recirculation Aquaculture System (RAS). The farm is called Athi Fish Farm and Hatchery.
RAS is an indoor tank-based system in which fish is grown at high density under controlled environmental conditions.
My dalliance with fish business really started in 1979. Then, I was buying and selling fish to hotels.
My thinking was that I would make more money buying and selling than by keeping them.
So I would buy fish from Kisumu and Mombasa, and sell to big hotels in the city. From Mombasa, I brought crayfish and crabs, while from Kisumu I would buy tilapia.
I was convinced that soon I would make it big. However, my hopes were dashed because clients took long to pay for deliveries.
After six months, I cut my losses and quit fish trade to concentrate on my architectural business. I am an architect and I mainly print plans. I also invested in firefighting equipment business.
But once a fish monger always a fish monger. The fish bug would bite me again in 2010 when the government rolled out a plan to boost fish farming across the country under the Economic Stimulus Package.
Having been bitten once, though, I was twice shy. I decided I wouldn’t go into buying and selling, but do it the ‘hard way’; putting up a fish pond and rearing fish.
BOUGHT LAND
The only challenge was that I considered my three-acre farm in Murang’a too small for the grand enterprise I had in mind. The area wasn’t safe for business too, as insecurity was rife.
I bought five acres in Lukenya Hills and started with four ponds where I bred 2,000 fingerlings donated by the Ministry of Fisheries. The ministry also gave us feeds and I religiously followed the rations daily, waiting for the fish to mature.
But try as I might, the fingerlings were not growing fast and as days passed, the harsh reality that I might have been raising stunted fish hit me like a thunderbolt. I was crestfallen. What had I done wrong? After a few days of soul searching, it occurred to me that I was missing the big picture.
Every day, visitors would come to my land asking for fingerlings and I would turn them away. It occurred to me that there was a bigger market out there that I could service.
I contacted a few farms around Nairobi and started supplying fingerlings to my neighbours in Kitengela and the larger Kajiado County. Unlike the fingerlings from the ministry, those that I was buying from these farms were growing much faster.
I enjoyed the proceeds, but the trips begun taking a toll on me and I asked one successful breeder if he could teach me how to hatch fingerlings. I invited him to my farm and he was not impressed by the hatchery and pond I had built. They were too rudimentary, he said.
Days later he told me I could upgrade my hatchery and pond with a modern fish breeding equipment.
I was apprehensive about the cost at first, but soon the urge to go full swing into the business engulfed me. I remembered the fortune I had made already and I sold a few assets and pooled family resources to raise more than Sh10 million needed.
To have the recirculating system working, we had to build a house and assemble the parts of the machine we imported from The Netherlands. This took us one-and-a-half years and we were set to go. We started with four ponds.
BUILT MORE PONDS
I have since built 15 more ponds and I rear catfish and tilapia. I chose these two breeds because they have a ready market.
I have employed a manager, who has trained on management and hatching of fingerlings using this system. She is 26-year-old Sandra Musangi and she is in charge of the day-to-day running of the farm.
Breeding starts with cleaning the hatchery three days before spawning (harvesting of eggs from the fish) using pure water. The system is then filled with purified water from a sedimentation tank which accumulates and purifies water used in the system.
The tank has filter blocks, which breakdown ammonia, a poisonous waste product excreted by fish, to less toxic nitrates.
The fish is put in a basin of water containing a tranquilliser for three to five minutes. This immobilises it to allow for the extraction of eggs through an operation.
The same procedure is repeated on male fish to remove sperms. Thereafter, the mixture of the male and female eggs is swirled in some water before distributing it into five egg trays that are put in fish tanks and left for 24 hours for the eggs to hatch. At this stage they are called fries.
Stage two contains one-week old fries. They stay in this stage for three weeks as they feed. The fingerlings are then transferred to concrete ponds.
At the juvenile stage, which is the last stage, the fingerlings are fed to grow bigger. One can buy the fingerlings at stage two or three.
Catfish fingerlings have a high mortality rate because the fish are carnivorous. They feed on each other if grading (separation of big fingerlings based on their size) is not done. In some instances, we have had up to 90 per cent loss after larger fingerlings fed on the small ones.
The first five months are usually the trickiest. Every four days we separate the bigger fingerlings from the small ones. We do this until the fingerlings are five months old. The fish take between six and eight months to mature, but we sell them by week three because at that age the fingerlings can adapt to any environment easily.
A breeding tank can carry 20,000 fingerlings. We can produce up to 100,000 fingerlings at a go since there are five tanks.
Through this system, I am able to meet the needs of my clients, who come from as far as Arusha, Moshi, Mombasa and Kisumu. We sell one fingerling at Sh10 and make up to Sh10,000 a day. We market our products online as we are active on Facebook and other social media platforms.
We harvest them normally - the mature fish with nets suited for them and the fingerlings using their nets. To supplement our earnings, we also sell feeds which we import from The Netherlands.
When selecting a brood stock, avoid those that inhabit in the river because they are unreliable spawners. Catfish from the river can never do well in the hatchery since they rely on the rains to start reproducing.
Secondly, get brood stocks which are known to perform well for commercial purposes. That is why we import. A good fish for brood stock should weigh between 5 and 9kg.
My advice to young people is that you can engage in any farming venture as long as you have passion. If you do not have the skill, ensure you employ or partner with a person who has the knowledge for you to be successful. 
SOURCE: NATION MEDIA