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Fishing and Fish Farming in Kenya

Fish Farming in Kenya

More than 500, 000 people are directly employed by Fish Farming in Kenya, while one million benefit from it. Kenya earns more than sh 4 billion in foreign exchange and fishermen more than sh7 billion, thus contributing to poverty alleviation in rural Kenya.

Fish products provide high protein diet and contribute to improved nutrition and health of communities living in the rural areas where fish is the main protein supply.

Tilapine species form about 90 per cent of fish farming in Kenya. Aquaculture takes different forms, ranging from small hand-dug kitchen ponds to fairly large earth ponds. Dams are often stocked with fish and harvested periodically.

Fish Farming practices include intensive, semi-intensive and extensive systems. Semi-intensive systems form the bulk of aquaculture production in Kenya, contributing to more than 70 per cent. Intensive systems are few, while hyper-intensive ones are being set up and projected to contribute as much as 90 per cent of all farmed fish in volume and value.

The number of full-time employees in fish farming is more than 400. Extension services are provided by staff of the agriculture ministry. The Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute have opened stations for aquaculture research and offers services to fish farmers. Universities such as Moi University, which has a Department of Fisheries, also offer technical assistance to farmers.

Data shows that more than 8,000 fish farmers have aquaculture production units. Fish are stocked in floating cages, earthen ponds and other water reservoirs and left to fend for themselves. These systems are dependent on natural productivity and water conditions. The systems are characterized by low stocking and yields.

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Extensive fish farming is mainly done in lakes, rivers, dams and other water reservoirs.  The fish depend on organic matter suspended in water. This system has not been well documented, but it is estimated that production ranges between 500 and 1,500kg a year, contributing to 10 per cent or more of the fish production in Kenya.

Semi-intensive systems, mostly producing tilapia, are the major contributors to aquaculture, with average production of about three tonnes contributing more than 70 per cent of fish production.

Earthen ponds and cages are used as holding units for fish culture. The ponds are fertilized using chemicals and organic fertiliser. Feeding using cereal bran and other feed supplements pond productivity.

Poly-culture of Oreochromis niloticus, Clarias gariepinus and Cyprinus carpio is practiced with various combinations of species. Production in these systems ranges between 1, 000 and 2,500kg a year.

Intensive aquaculture is largely used for trout production. This has supported tourism as it is considered a luxury and is supplied to hotels catering for tourists. The contribution of this fish is therefore higher in monetary value than by weight.

Hyper-intensive tilapia culture has begun through cage culture. This will soon contribute to as much as 90 per cent of farmed fish in Kenya.

Fish Farming in Kenya – Overview

Fish farming is the principal form of aquaculture, while other methods may fall under mariculture. Fish farming involves raising fish commercially in tanks or enclosures, usually for food. A facility that releases juvenile fish into the wild for recreational fishing or to supplement a species’ natural numbers is generally referred to as a fish hatchery. Worldwide, the most important fish species used in fish farming are carp, salmon, tilapia and catfish.

There is an increasing demand for fish and fish protein, which has resulted in widespread overfishing in wild fisheries. Fish farming offers fish marketers another source. However, farming carnivorous fish, such as salmon, does not always reduce pressure on wild fisheries, since carnivorous farmed fish are usually fed fishmeal and fish oil extracted from wild forage fish.

Fish Farming in Kenya

Fish Farming in Kenya

Kenya’s government has started an ambitious project to promote fish farming in the country. The Ministry of Fisheries Development has started construction of 200 fish ponds in 140 constituencies. Fish farming has been identified as a potential source of income and job creation for the population. This is a viable business that you can benefit from.


Fish farming is a relatively inexpensive to set up for those entrepreneurs who have a piece of land to spare. In Kenya, the most common form of rearing fish in open fish ponds which are dug on the ground. A polythene layer is then applied to aid in water retention and a little soil is placed on the bed with plankton seeds before water is poured in. The main costs include, labor, purchasing polythene, fingerlings and feeds. However you can keep fish in concrete, plastic or fiber glass tanks. Farming fish in tanks is usually more expensive and might require a higher amount of capital outlay.

Knowledge Required – Tilapia is the main species of fish that is farmed in Kenya. There is also the African cat fish that is farmed with tilapia. You need to know the right water conditions for breeding of both species. Water quality is an essential element in aquaculture and that can affect the yields. You also need to know the right type of feeds, how to avoid diseases. It takes about 6 – 9 months for the fish to mature.

Value Addition – Some of the ways of adding value being include production of fish meal, canning, fingerling production and rearing of ornamental fish which are kept in aquariums.

Challenges – Over breeding can lead to stunted growth in ponds.   To overcome the problem resulting from prolific breeding of tilapia, ponds are stocked with males only (mono sex culture) because the males grow almost twice as fast as females. Male fingerlings can be obtained by three methods: hybridization, sex-reversal and manual sexing.

Growth potential – Additionally, as a result of growth in this industry, the demand for quality fingerlings has shot up from one million to 28 million in less than a year, and is expected to peak at 100 million soon which the department of fisheries is unable to cope with. Also there is a demand for more than 14,000 tonnes of fish feed. If you can specialize in these two fields, you will have unlimited growth in the next few years.

Market – Income potential is great for fish farming. In major towns like Nairobi, a kilo of fish fillet costs about Sh350 which is more expensive than other available types of meat. A whole Tilapia costs between Sh250 and Sh320 per kilo. Proximity to the market is very important because fish has a very short shelf life. Refrigeration facilities are very helpful in preserving the fish so that you can sell beyond your locality.

The artificial rearing of fish in ponds is known as fish farming or aquaculture. It is gaining popularity as fish consumption increases due to changing eating habits. It is also a good source of proteins.

Fish Farming in Kenya – Importance of Fish Farming

  1. It supplies a cheap and a good source of protein which is a substitute for meat.
  2. Can be practiced even where land is a limiting factor because it requires little land.
  3. It makes fish available nearby.
  4. It is a source of income for the fish farmers.

Fish Farming in Kenya – Species

  1. Fresh warm water fish — These are found where water is 18° Celsius and above such as tilapia, carps, black bass, striped bass, catfish, bluegill and nile perch.
  2. Fresh cold water fish — These are found in water with a temperature of between 10° and 15° Celsius. They require water which is always flowing, for example trout.

Fish Farming in Kenya – Fish Farming Requirements

To start a fish farm the following should be considered:

  • Water supply — Water flowing freely is suitable for fish farming.Flowing of water in and out of the fish pond ensures enough oxygen supply.
  • Slope of land — Flat land does not allow free flow of water. In hilly places, it is expensive to construct a pond, and also may result in breaking of the wall. A suitable place should be on a gentle slope.
  • Soil — Clay soil is the best for fish farming as it does not allow water to seep through. To test for a suitable soil, do the following:
  1. Take a handful of wet soil.
  2. Knead in between fingers and roll it into a ribbon.
  3. Throw it into the air and catch it.
  4. If the ribbon does not break, it is truly clay and is suitable.

Another method of testing soil for suitability is to dig a hole one metre deep and thirty centimetres in diameter. It is filled with water in the evening and left overnight, then filled again in the morning. Good soil should retain water up to the evening of the second day.

Fish Farming in Kenya – Establishing a Fish Pond

The procedure for establishing a fish pond is as follows:

  1. Site selection — Select a suitable place where water flows gently  from the source.
  2. Site marking — After planning the area, pegs are used to mark the channel from the river, the entrance and exit and also the channel to take water back to the river.
  3. Clearing the land — All vegetation is removed and taken away from the pond area.
  4. Digging the pond — Soil is dug out. The top soil is placed in a particular place as it will be used again. The upper side of the pond should be 0.5 m deep and the lower one 1.5 m deep.

Constructing the dyke — The dyke is the wall that is constructed all round the pond. A core is established by digging a trench 0.5 m wide and lower than the general level of the pond bottom. It is then  filled with clay and compacted or concrete used to prevent seepage. The soil is thrown on the outside and inside of this core to make a 4 dyke.

Fish Farming in Kenya – Constructing Inlet, outlet and spillway


This is a canal or a pipe at the entrance to the pond. It is made in the dyke slightly above the level of pond water. A screen of fine mesh is made across the inlet to prevent the entrance of undesirable or strange species of fish.


This is made at the deeper end of the pond just a little above the bottom of the pond. A pipe is put and cemented round it to make the outlet firm. A screen is fitted at the mouth of the outlet to prevent the fish from swimming away.


This is a channel to allow excess water back to the river. It is made at the top of the dyke on the lower side of the pond. The spillway prevents the water from overflowing on the dykes.

Grass is planted on the dyke and the land around it to stabilise the ground.The pond is then fenced all round to keep off predators and unauthorized persons.

Fish Farming in Kenya – Stocking the Pond

A young fish is known as a fingerling. Fingerlings are the ones normally introduced into the pond. They are obtained from hatcheries, such as Sagana, Kiganjo, Kisumu fisheries, Bamburi Nature Trail and others.

These are transported in oxygenated polythene bags, milk cans or drums. Water in the transporting containers should be clean and at a temperature of about 10° Celsius. Care should be taken to avoid injuring the fingerlings. Fingerlings are introduced into the pond by lowering the container into the water and tilting it to allow them to swim away. In stocking, an average of 5-10 fingerlings per 5 m2 of the fish pond is desirable.

Fish Farming in Kenya – Feeding Fish

The most common type of food for fish is planktons. Also cheap food given include groundnut cake, kitchen waste, slaughter house waste, leaves, grass and manure, particularly chicken manure.

Fish are given just enough food as excess can rot and pollute the pond. Any change in the type of food given should be gradual. Manure or fertilisers should be added to the pond to encourage the growth of planktons.

Fish Farming in Kenya – Cropping and Harvesting


This is the removal of fish of marketable size from the pond. Various methods used in catching fish include skets, spears, hook and line and nets. The pond can also be drained to catch all the fish in the pond. Use of baskets and spears is not popular in commercial fishing as it requires a lot of time and labour.

Hook and line — Baited hooks are lowered into the water for the bait to attract fish. As the fish tries to eat the bait it gets hooked.The baits used commercially are known as fishing flies.

Use of nets — Nets of different meshes are used for catching fish. The most common net used in East Africa is the seine net which has meshes measuring 3.0— 3.5 cm.

The advantages of using seine nets over the hook and line are:

  1. Only the marketable size fish are caught. The smaller ones swim back to the pond if caught.
  2. Fish are not injured.
  3. The use of seine nets ensures a large number of fish are cropped.


This is the removal of all the fish from the pond. The pond is drained and all the fish are removed. The harvesting procedure is as follows:

  1. The inflow of water from the river is stopped by closing the channel leading to the pond.
  2. The normal cropping is done to remove all the large fish by use of a seine net.
  3. The outlet is then opened to allow water to flow out.
  4. A scoop net is used to catch the baby fish (fingerlings) which are kept in a holding pond.
  5. Water is completely drained for the pond to dry up.

Fish Farming in Kenya – Maintenance of the Pond

The following practices are carried out on the pond after draining it:

  1. Repairing the dyke or any structure on it.
  2. Cleaning the pond and removing all foreign materials.
  3. Planting grass where necessary.
  4. Removing undesirable vegetation.
  5. Remove the silt.

After two to four weeks, fingerlings are taken back to the pond by use of scoop nets. This is known as restocking.

Fish Farming in Kenya – Fish Preservation

After harvesting, the following practices are carried out on fish before preservation :

  1. Cleaning the fish to remove mud and any worms.
  2. Removing scales and slime.
  3. Opening the fish on the side to remove the gut and the intestines.This is known as gutting.
  4. Cleaning the abdominal cavity thoroughly.
  5. Keeping fish in open containers.

The various methods for preserving fish include:

  1. Freezing — Keeping fish in deep freezers.
  2. Salting – Fish are kept in a salt solution. Granular salt can also be rubbed on the fish.
  3. Sun-drying — Fish are dried under strong sunlight. They are spread on racks or mats to dry.
  4. Smoking — This is done by exposing fish to a temperature of 70°Celsius. This is done in a smoking pit, a drum smoker or smoking houses. Wood is commonly used as fuel.

Fish are transported to the market in refrigerated containers to prevent rotting. Fish are exported and also sold locally.

Tilapia Fish Farming in Kenya

Tilapia has taken an important role in the fish farming. Almost all types of people like tilapia recipes like baked tilapia to eat and there are no man who does not like tilapia. The weather and environment of our Asian countries is very favorable for tilapia fish farming. As the tilapia is one of the very testy and fast growing fish species, so it has a great demand to the fish farmer and consumers. It has made a revolution in the field of fish farming. By farming the tilapia fish in modern ways using up to date technology and techniques, desired income can be made within a very short time.

Tilapia fish farming is also a suitable way of earnings for the unemployed people. Due to the high rate and demand of tilapia in local and foreign markets, the farmers are being more interested in this fish farming. Efficiency of taking natural feed, interests in supplementary feed, surviving in averse natural condition and for disease resistance power of tilapia the popularity of it is increasing to the farmer. As well as the demand of tilapia fish is increasing in international market day by day. Tilapia fish can survive in 12-40 degree centigrade temperature and grows well in 16-35 degree centigrade temperature. Tilapia can be produced twice a year. If modern farming methods and technology can be used in tilapia fish farming, then it would generate more income. And it has a bright chance to contribute to our economy.

Fish Farming in Kenya – Farming Method

Well management is very important to get highest benefit from tilapia fish farming. Tilapia grows rapidly. The female tilapia can produce minnow for numerous times in a year. So different sized tilapia can be seen in the pond. As a result of it the farmers do not get desired production. Naturally, the growth rate of male tilapia is more than the female. The farmer can cultivate only the male tilapia which will generate more production. This types of cultivation is called mono-sex tilapia fish farming. This types of tilapia consume supplementary feed and can survive in averse natural condition even it can be cultivate in high density.

Select a pond with a depth of 1.5-4 feet for tilapia farming. Bush and unnecessary thing must have to removed from pond, it will ensure the entrance and availability of sunlight inside the pond. Proper pond management helps better production.

Fish Farming in Kenya – Nursing Pond

The minnow of tilapia fish should kept in a nursing pond after bringing them from tilapia hatchery. Before keeping the minnow to the pond you have to be sure about the condition of the pond. First of all make the pond dry and apply rotenon medicine to remove unwanted and cannibalistic fish insects and animals. After that, apply 100 kg lime, 500-700 kg dung, 10-15 g nitrogen, 5-7 g TSP and 2 g MOP per acres. Keep a net around the pond to prevent the fish from predators like frogs and snakes. After 5-7 days of applying fertilizer, stock 21-28 day old minnow in the pond. Serve 10-15% feed to the fish according to the weight of the minnow. After 40-60 days of caring and nursing move them to another pond.

Fish Farming in Kenya – Breeding

Breeding process of tilapia fish is not so difficult and the setup of breeding process is very simple. For breeding purpose the brood-stocks can be placed in a small sized tank and after that transfer the fry to a larger tank or pond for further farming. It is very difficult to identify male or female tilapia fish when they are very young. Which is a very big problem for commercial tilapia fish farming. For this reason the large commercial tilapia producers use hormones or genetically chosen fish to produce only male tilapia for profitable farming.

Fish Farming in Kenya – Feed

Tilapia is generally an omnivorous fish species. They generally consume everything including algae and various types of aquatic plants.  For small or large scale commercial tilapia fish farming the producers can use commercial tilapia fish feed which are available to the nearest market. Organic fish feeds are also available for tilapia fish and homemade feed can also be used. Commercial feeds are very healthy and effective for the fish and it provide the highest growth.

Fish Farming in Kenya – Management

First of all remove different types of unwanted and cannibalistic fish from the pond by using a net or applying rotenon or other medicine. Apply dung and compost fertilizer every week for producing natural feed in the pond. In accordance with natural feed serve them sufficient supplementary fish feed. If you provide supplementary feed according to the demand of fish then there is no necessity of providing natural feed. When the weight of fish will be more than 100 g, then it will be better if you change the water of the pond at the rate of 5% daily. When the average weight of tilapia would 300-500 g then it will be suitable for sale. Collect all the fish and stock again.

Nowadays the market of tilapia is speeding worldwide. Our environment and weather is very suitable for tilapia fish farming. It takes low time in farming and give a great income within a short time. As the demand and price is high so the farmers are becoming more interested in tilapia fish farming. Tilapia farming can meet up our demand of protein and make our economy strong.

Grow out strategies for tilapia range from the simple to the very complex. Relatively simple tilapia farming strategies are characterized by little control over water quality and food supply and by low fish farm yields. As greater control over water quality and fish nutrition is imposed and fish stocking levels are increased, the fish yield per unit area increases. Across this wide range of fish farming methods, there is a progression from low to high management intensity.

In traditional pond culture of tilapia, proper environmental conditions are maintained by balancing the inputs of feed with the natural assimilative capacity of the pond environment. The pond’s natural biological productivity (algae, higher plants, zooplankton and bacteria) serves as both a food source and a biological filter that helps convert fish waste by-products through natural biological processes. Increasing fish stocking densities places increasing demands on the fish production system. Additional energy inputs in the form of labor, water exchange, aeration and higher quality fish feeds are all required to sustain fish culture conditions in the intensive system. As pond production intensifies and fish feeding rates increase, supplemental aeration and some water exchange are required to maintain good water quality. For fish stocking densities above 1.5-kg per square meter, aeration is usually required. Eventually, there is an end point where the incremental returns on investment are not worth the incrementally higher rated of production relative to the higher costs and higher risks. In other words, increasing the intensity of the fish culture system does not necessarily reflect an increase in profitability.

All tilapia production systems must provide a suitable environment to promote the growth of the aquatic crop. This is true regardless of whether tilapia are grown in ponds, in cages, or in tanks or raceways.  Critical environmental parameters that must be properly managed include dissolved oxygen, ammonia, nitrites, and carbon dioxide. Other important parameters to control within the fish production system include nitrates, pH, and alkalinity. To produce tilapia in a cost effective manner, aquatic production systems must be capable of maintaining all of these water quality variables in a safe range for the entire grow-out period.

Proper feeding of a nutritionally balanced fish feed is critical to success for any tilapia farming operation. To produce excellent growth rates, tilapia are typically fed moderate to high protein pelleted diets at rates ranging from 1.0% to 30% of their body weight per day depending upon their age and size.

Numerous options for holding brood fish, fry, fingerlings, juveniles, sub-adult and adult tilapias are available to the prospective farmer. The basic options include ponds, tanks or raceways, and cages. Ponds are used in extensive, semi-intensive and intensive tilapia production. Pond culture is by far the most common method being employed on a global scale because it is one of the cheapest methods and also is one of the best. Ponds are much cheaper to construct and allow tilapia production specialists to stimulate natural productivity more readily. One potential major drawback of pond culture is the greater risk of uncontrolled reproduction, which will occur if the tilapias have not been properly sex-reversed prior to stocking in the grow-out ponds. Tanks or raceways involve considerably greater expense to construct, but offer greater control. They are typically used in intensive grow out of tilapias, or in the tilapia hatchery. If it’s done right, cage culture of tilapia can be the least cost method of growing larger tilapia, but tilapia cage culture is limited by availability of high quality sites and can be subjected to potentially devastating environmental extremes if not properly accounted for in the site selection and operational plans.

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