Just two years ago, Ben Okuta and other fishermen were disappointed by the dwindling fish stocks in Lake Victoria, but they found a new way of earning a living.
The fishermen have started to practise floating cage aquaculture. With the help of the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (Kemfri), the fishermen have built floating cage ponds that they have placed in Lake Victoria. They can now relax at home and still generate enough revenue for their families from the venture.
We have 31 cages which we use as ponds to breed fish. We have installed them at the Dunga Beach, where we keep monitoring them, said Mr Okuta.
He said that each of the pond, which measures 2.5 metres square, is used to breed 1,600 fish, which take between five and six months before harvesting.
Each fish goes for Sh120, which earns us, a total of Sh130,000 per cage, said Mr Okuta.
The project began two years ago, when a Ugandan farmer who had his own fish cages at the Swan Farm in Jinja shared the idea with the former fishermen at the Dunga Beach.
He was sharing the Ugandan experience of the water hyacinth and said that he was in a group of farmers who had started floating cages aquaculture as a way of adapting to the changing lake environment, said Mr Okuta.
On learning about the practice, the fishermen at the beach formed a group that later invited the Ugandan farmer to help them build the cages.
He then held a series of meetings to teach us how to breed the fish in the cages and a few safety precautions, he said. Each cage has the capacity to breed 2,000 fish, but we chose to breed 1,600 to give them ample space.
The cages are made from metals that are placed together and held afloat using empty jerrycans. The walls’ of the submerged fish ponds are made from nets which are tied to the metal bars.
After the cages have been assembled together, they are anchored to the beach so that they cannot be swept away by the waves in the lake.
We get the fingerlings from different places but most frequently from Sagana fish farm, Dominion farm and from the Lake Basin Development Authority Dunga Fisher Cooperative Society secretary Maurice Ongowe said.
He said that the group specifically breeds the tilapia nilotica and the tilapia exlentus (which is white in colour). Fingerlings for the two are given to the farmers by Kemfri for free.
Initially we mixed males and females in the same cage but we realised that the males were smaller in size when they were harvested, so we decided to only breed females Mr Ongowe said.
The farmers sell their fish to several hotels in the lakeside city, depending on their demand. We never lack market and we harvest them when they are just 500 grammes or plate size, because the hotels prefer the size, he said.
This form of fish farming, according to Mr Ongowe, is good since the fish is kept in a clean environment.