By: Anna Majavu
Many entrepreneurs may never have dreamed of one day making a business by farming sharptooth catfish in ponds, but with fish supplies in oceans dwindling, small-scale aquaculture could offer new opportunities for SMMEs. Aquaculture, the farming of fish and shellfish in a controlled environment, was the way forward in terms of the supply of fish products globally, said Keagan Halley, Deputy Director for Aquaculture at the Department of Environment, Fisheries and Forestry (DEFF).
“A number of our fishing resources are overexploited and that has paved the way for aquaculture to substitute that commodity. It is an infinite resource, as opposed to capture fishing which is a finite resource,” he told a Small Enterprise Development Agency (Seda) webinar on manufacturing opportunities. The government has set aside an aquaculture development zone in Saldanha Bay in the Western Cape where companies can get 15-year rights to farm oysters, mussels, and fin fish.
To qualify, SMMEs need a company registration, business plan, B-BBEE certificate and traceability protocols that allow them to sell their fish on the market. The environmental authorisations, which are usually expensive, have already been arranged for companies in the aquaculture zone by the government. The Department of Trade, Industry and Competition offers a reimbursement of up to 50% of the costs of getting started under its Aquaculture Development and Enhancement Programme. There were only 45 aquaculture projects in South Africa and the DEFF has done environmental assessments across the country to identify the best sites for aquaculture, making it a viable space for SMMEs to enter, said Halley.
The DEFF also offers free training for aquaculture SMMEs at the Aquaculture Technology Demonstration Centre in Gariep Dam, Free State. People who live far from the ocean might prefer to farm sharptooth catfish in freshwater pools. These fish also do not need special temperature-controlled environments. “Sharptooth catfish can be farmed anywhere in the country. They are a hardy species,” said Halley. But recent research by the Water Research Commission, the Aquaculture Research Unit at the University of Limpopo, and the China-South Africa Agricultural Technology Demonstration Centre in Free State found that aquaculture entrepreneurs could face a
number of problems.
The Aquaculture Technology Demonstration Centre in Gariep Dam is the only hatchery currently supplying high-quality sharptooth catfish fingerlings (young fish the length of a finger) to local farmers. When these farmers bred their own fish, they “are usually of poor quality because of inbreeding and poor fish husbandry practices”, said the researchers. Digging a pond in soil can lead to poor water quality. Most SMME aquaculturists involved in
sharptooth catfish farming also cannot afford to spend between R1 million and R20 million and so does not qualify for the DTIC incentive.
“Lack of funding is among the most limiting factors affecting the growth and development of the catfish industry in southern Africa. Farmers still struggle to access funding from financial institutions. Generally, there is very little private sector investment in the catfish industry,” the researchers found.