Fallout from the TILV and the ban on tilapia importation

…Local farms must be supported to meet the demand

Samuel Aboagye

The recent press statement by the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture Development, MoFAD, concerning the ban on Tilapia importation, sounds like a cliché to some of us because the real issue is left unattended to. It is worth noting that the subject of Tilapia Lake Virus (TILV) must be seriously observed and counter-measures put in place to ensure consumers are well protected.

The Ghana National Association of Fish Pond Farmers (GNAFPF) issued a statement in response to the ban, reassuring the various stakeholders and consumers about measures being put in place to safeguard tilapia on the market. However, the bigger picture is way beyond just banning importation.

On August 28th 2014, government in a statement placed a ban on the importation of tilapia. Government at that time said it would no longer issue permits for the popular fish found on most Ghanaian menus. Fisheries Minister Sherry Aryitey told Joy News that government expected the new policy to stimulate growth in the local aqua-culture sector to create more than 50,000 jobs.

Indeed, that ban has never been lifted and one would assume that there has been no importation of tilapia till date. But then, on September 7th 2017, two Chinese citizens imported 1,310 cartons of unwholesome tilapia into the country – thereby causing the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture Development, Elizabeth Afoley Quaye, to issue a statement on the illegality of importing tilapia.

I think the most pressing issue is not about banning importation tilapia because we are all aware tilapia importation is banned. As a first step it is okay; but then, when the country in total imports 60% of its 950,000 metric tonnes of fish it consumes annually, how do you expect the local farms to meet the gap in demand. This implies we import over 600,000 metric tonnes of fish – and the 400,000 metric tonnes we produce is even contributing to depletion of our fish stock. When did we get here, and how can we solve this challenge is what we should be focusing on.

Aquaculture has a great potential in Ghana where it has the capacity to bridge the huge gap existing between fish demand and supply, and even produce in excess of domestic demand for export. Ghana has the potential for, and places much value on the development of, inland and brackish water aquaculture and culture-based fisheries as important means of increasing national fish production.

Ghana abounds in rivers, seas, dams and dugouts – all of which make aquaculture feasible nationwide. With favourable environmental and institutional conditions, suitable topography and climate and government support, abundance of resourceful human capital, availability of natural water-bodies and high demand for fish etcetera, Ghana is making quick, giant strides in aquaculture development.

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The recent participation of foreign commercial investors in the sector has drastically and positively altered the face of fish farming in the country. Though fish farming is a fairly new business activity in Ghana, its practice is becoming widespread – especially in the Ashanti, Central, Eastern, Volta and Western Regions of the country.

The aquaculture subsector consists mainly of small-scale operators who practice on a subsistence level using the semi-intensive system of production in earthen ponds. Many farmers employ the extensive culture system by which dams, dugout ponds and reservoirs are used for fish-rearing.

A few commercial fish farmers who use intensive culture systems account for about 75 percent of Ghana’s total aquaculture production. The pond-based culture system is the dominant production system in the southern and central belts of Ghana, accounting for over 98 percent of farms, and is mainly small-scale and semi-intensive in nature.

In the last couple of years, however, the dominant culture system for tilapia production has changed – and the vast majority of cultured tilapia is now being farmed intensively in cages, particularly in Lake Volta.

Fish-holding systems commonly used in Ghana include floating cages, earthen ponds and concrete tanks. Of all the farmed fish in Ghana, between 75 percent and 93 percent are derived from floating cages, while at least 7 percent is harvested from ponds. The cage farming of tilapia is concentrated in Lake Volta and has developed fast as a business activity at an annual growth rate of 73 percent between 2010 and 2016. The first cage fish farm in Ghana was established in 2001. Cage farms currently account for less than 2 percent of farms by number but much more by catch output.

The vast majority of cage farms are located in the Asuogyaman district in the Eastern Region, with most small-scale cage farms concentrated between Akosombo Dam and Kpong Dam. Several medium-sized cage farms are installed in areas such as Kpeve in South Dayi district of Volta Region; Sedom in Asuogyaman district and Akrusu in Upper Manya Krobo district of Eastern Region. Fish farming in the Northern, Upper-East and Upper-West Regions in the north is largely carried out in extensive or culture-based fisheries. These fisheries exist at irrigation sites, reservoirs and earthen dams.

The emergence of the cage farming system has brought with it a boom in the private fish hatchery business, with seed production soaring to over 150 million fingerlings in 2016. Most large-scale commercial fish farms in Ghana operate cage culture systems on Lake Volta; others operate both earthen ponds and cage systems. Tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus) is the predominant and preferred fish species for farming, market and consumption in Ghana.

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Tilapia species represents over 80 percent of farmed fish harvest, with a current production of 60,000 tonnes per year. Catfish Clarias gariepinus and Heterobranchus species make up the remaining 20 percent of culture species. Heterotis niloticus, silver carp and tiger prawn (Penaeus monodom) have also been cultivated, though sparingly and often for experimental purposes. Shellfish farming is not popular in Ghana.

What government needs to do is help these farms increase production – by that I mean government should help these local farms build their capacity in terms of training, providing funds to help construct more farm cages, subsidised fish feed, and removal of import duties on aquaculture inputs.

There have been many instances when these farms struggled to get fingerlings to stock their cages, though the opportunity for many farms to boost their production depends on these fingerlings. Government, through its water research division, can pursue this agenda of fingerlings production and use it as a check to ensure quality standards are met.

Fish feed is expensive in Ghana and is responsible for the high aquaculture production costs. It makes up about 70 percent of the total production cost, with the imported feeds being 30 percent more expensive than locally-produced ones.

If, indeed, the motive for banning importation is to boost local production, then much more should be done to help bridge the production deficit as a means of helping meet demand. Other than that, there will be price hikes and people will still be using dubious means to import tilapia into the country.

Additionally, the capital-intensive nature of fish production is deterring many potential young people from embarking on this occupation. Just like the Planting for Food and Jobs programme, government can initiate a programme targeted at boosting fish production in the country.

Enforcement at the various ports should be held in the highest esteem; and checks at local farms should be intensified to ensure good production practices are pursued. Indeed, local farms have the vision and drive to produce beyond our annual consumption levels and export the excess, but this can only be realised with the fullest support this time from government – and not just the usual rhetoric.

The writer is the Sales Manager (Lake Fresh Tilapia)

Twitter: @nanacwame

Email: kingblow83@gmail.com

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