On countless occasions, experts have encouraged the public to eat more fish than meat since fish is more nutritious and healthy.
However, Ghana’s marine resources continue to dwindle, resulting in low catch by fishermen. Currently, the country’s total fish requirement stands at 88,000 metric tonnes but only 4, 200 metric tonnes of fish is produced.
Consequently, there is always a deficit as supply cannot meet demand. To make up for the deficit, there have been passionate appeals to Ghanaians to venture into aquaculture to help reduce fish imports into the country. Ghana imports $200,000,000 annually to make up for the annual deficit, and aquaculture could produce enough fish to offset the deficit of about 400,000 metric tons of the country's fish requirements. According to FAO statistics, aquaculture contributes to the global supply of fish, and in Ghana, it is playing a very important role. Aqua Farming is a non resource extractive food sector that is sustainable, renewable and provides safe, high quality food products to consumers while creating considerable benefits for the general population. Based on science and technology, it is a market driven sector that has emerged to provide consumers with value, taste and convenience in consumption of seafood and other aquatic products.
A number of people who have heard this call have ventured into aquaculture, either on fulltime or past time. Ghana can now boast of being the home to the second largest fish farm in Africa, the first is in South Africa.
A study has revealed that in irrigation schemes, fish farming is most likely to grow in Ashanti, Eastern, Northern part of Central Region, and the Greater Accra area.
Mark Amechi, the Managing Director of Tropo Farms Limited, an aqua culture fish farm with 40 acre hatchery and some 170 cages on the Volta Lake which is rated as the second biggest aqua farm in Africa, thinks that marine fish and farmed fish have different tastes, hence, deferent consumers.
However, when one wants fish, though taste is important, availability must be considered.
In Mark’s seven years as a fish farmer, he attest to the fact that the industry has a great potential but is sad that the activities of some unscrupulous group could affect this bright prospect.
In an interview at his cold store facility that has the bold inscription “Volta Catch”, located on the Tema-Akosombo road, Mark complained that the popping up of new farms on the Akosombo Gorge is worrying and that proper regulation needs to be done to ensure the industry achieves its full potential.
Mr. Amechi is afraid such unscrupulous investors in the industry might import faster growing tilapia as a result of the competition and that could lead to the pollution of the Lake.
Aquaculture requires clean growing waters to maintain a good level of production. Therefore, the industry which encourages environmentally-friendly practices on constant basis needs to take practical steps to protect the environment. In fact, without ensuring protection of the environment, the industry would flounder. Such safeguards include government measures controlling the introduction of new species and the transfer of fish, fish health protection, better site selection, and actions to minimize fish escapes and prevent waste discharges.
Complaining about the unregulated farms popping upstream of the Volta-Lake, Mr. Amechi says there are so many farms on the upstream of the Volta Lake and that needs to be regulated.
“Common sense and scientific evidence suggest that the firm spread out rather than pile up in one area,” he says.
He pleaded with the appropriate authorities to do something about the free-for-all happenings on the upstream before it gets out of hand, suggesting that monitoring of the operators in the industry would help but it should be done on a regular basis and not just once.
Concerned about the pollution of the lake, he expresses the fear that they could import faster growing tilapia and that will collapse the business of operators in the downstream basin who are given strict and expensive guidelines by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Water Resource Commission (WRC).
It is difficult these days to imagine taking a walk from one end of the street to the other without by-passing a restaurant that serves tilapia and banku with hot pepper. The truth is that there are restaurants scattered on the streets of Accra so much that sometimes one wonders who buys from the other. But the common thing to find on the menus of these restaurants or the local canteens, popularly called “chop bar’, is Tilapia.
The essential role aqua culture is playing is that in addition to providing more jobs, it is generating profit and as such, offering people to live better quality life.
According to the Manager of Tropo Farms, he expects to sell 2500 tonnes of tilapia by the end of this year as against the total yield of 2000 tonnes in 2008 which were all sold on the Ghanaian market.
The government of Ghana, through the then ministry of fisheries, now the fisheries commission, has for sometime now been aggressively pursuing the Aquaculture Development Policy as a profitable business venture and not as a hobby.
With support from Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), a project in the Volta Basin to develop fast growing specie, the Genetically Improved Farmed Tilapia (GIFT), which would make fish farming commercially and economically attractive, has been pursued. GIFT takes about four to six months to mature for harvesting.
However, there are some hurdles that need to be tackled to make the industry attractive. Long procedures one has to go through to register a company, difficulty with acquiring genuine land, the absence of required skilled workforce, lack of finance, among others, are some of the problems involved in aquaculture, and Mark, who studied aqua culture for his Bachelor’s degree in Science in Hawaii, US and also majored in Aquaculture for his Masters of Science in Bangkok, China, experienced these problems when he decided to set up here in Ghana in 1996. Real production began in 2002 after the company was finally registered in 1997.
Mark, who had earlier tried establishing in Nigeria, said he came to Ghana because of the favourable business environment after seeing the big opportunity in the tilapia business here. Now, the company employs 450 casual and full time workers.
Mentioning that the aqua culture industry, just as others, is in difficult times as a result of the global financial crisis, he mentioned that the cost of feed meal is gradually becoming unbearable.
However, optimistic Mark intends to diversify his purely intensive tilapia culture and include catfish at a latter stage. “We can only diversify when there is profit but the cedi is done now,” says the Trop farm Manager.
As he spends about 16 hours a day either on his farm, or doing some administrative work in connection with the operations of Tropo farms, Mr. Amechi confirms that commercial aquaculture requires 200 per cent of commitment of time and effort.
According to the Kwesi Ahwoi, minister of Food and Agriculture the importation of especially frozen tilapia is forbidden while Mr Alfred Tettehbo, director of fisheries encouraged more people to undertake aquaculture as a business.