Wild Coast fish farm gets a fillip

The new Mbhashe incubator will farm tilapia like these, which were harvested from a similar facility in Malawi.

A fish farming project on the Wild Coast has surged to the fore to take its place on public works minister Patricia de Lille’s new strategic infrastructure projects which she gazetted last week.

The Mbhashe Marine Tilapia Incubator was initiated by the provincial government through the Eastern Cape Rural Development Agency as a small pilot facility.

But having made it onto the minister’s list, the fish farm is now attracting exciting partnership possibilities with stakeholders including the national government, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, the SA International Maritime Institute and Nelson Mandela University.

Eastern Cape Rural Development Agency CEO Nhlanganiso Dladla said on Tuesday the marine tilapia incubator would comprise a land-based fish farm, with feed produced by local farmers, together with a dedicated training institute.

It would be situated in the Mbhashe Municipality between the Qorraa and Ngqageni river mouths.

“The initial aim for the project is to become self-sustaining with a production output of 2,000 tonnes per annum.

“More broadly and in the longer term the aim is that SA’s marine tilapia industry, which the incubator will seed, will produce 100,000 tonnes by 2032.

This will be achieved through the commercialisation of five clusters along the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal coastline.

“Each cluster will produce 20,000 tonnes in a year and the aim will be to add one new cluster every two years between 2022 and 2032.

“In scalability terms, the marine tilapia Industry would then be comparable to SA’s Cape hake capture fishery yields.”

Dladla said the fish farm would consist of a series of tanks managed by environmentally friendly Biofloc Technology which was based on the introduction of micro-organisms which improved the quality of the water and generated protein and reduced the cost of feed.

The technology was being used successfully in a similar fish farming industry in Malawi and the Mbhashe Marine Tilapia Incubator would seek to replicate that model.

The Mbhashe project would generate skills and jobs, he said.

“The first cohort of 20-30 trainees, mainly youths and members of Eastern Cape fishing communities, will be selected for the internal staffing needs of the incubator.

“Thereafter additional cohorts of trainees will be prepared to create a valuable human resources pipeline for employment as the commercial aspect of the project follows from the third year onwards.”

Training would focus on the production of suitable grains and legumes to produce the food pellets for the tilapia and the all-important Biofloc Technology plus management, harvesting, packaging and distribution of the fish.

Training and accreditation partners would include NMU, the University of KwaZulu-Natal and the Agricultural Sector Education Training Authority, he said.

“The aim is that the marine tilapia industry will become a value-added market for feedstock commodities bringing rewards to all stakeholders in the value chain.”

Dladla said it was expected that the tilapia, retailing for R20-30/kg, would be offered for sale first in the rural Eastern Cape until this demand was saturated, at which point it would be distributed more widely.

“Eventually, consumers throughout SA will have a more affordable whitefish option to compete with Cape hake.”

Further preparation of the architectural and engineering design of the incubator would continue through 2020 and it was anticipated that the environmental impact assessment would also be authorised in this period, he said.

“The project should be ready for sod-turning by President Cyril Ramaphosa in late 2020.”

By Guy Rogers

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