The growth of aquaculture raises concern about the decline in fish welfare in Lake Victoria - Research
Aquaculture, a growing practice in Uganda, literally means the breeding, raising, and harvesting of fish, shellfish, and aquatic plants. Essentially, it can be termed as farming in water.
As the demand for fish as a protein food increases in Uganda, it will be noted that many business-oriented and minded people have involved themselves in aquaculture for commercial purposes too.
This practice encroaches on the welfare of fish, ranging from water quality and natural feeds for fish to being fed on fish pellets, very small ounces of food given once in two days.
As we discuss the impact of aquaculture on fish welfare, it’s important to note that as aquaculture grows, fish welfare must grow too, ranging from overcrowding in fish ponds, restrictive conditions, better water quality, starvation, and suffocation.
According to the National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS), Uganda produces up to 15,000 tons of fish from aquaculture, including production from small-scale fish farmers, emerging commercial fish farmers, and stocked community water reservoirs and minor lakes.
There are an estimated 20,000 ponds throughout the country with an average surface area of 500m² per fish pond. In Uganda, the aquaculture enterprise has gained shape with many farmers taking on aquaculture for majorly commercial purposes.
This has been mainly due to the fish from natural water bodies like lakes, streams, and rivers being insufficient for the fish-eating populations.
However, due to the recent increase in population and high upshot of fish processing plants for export, the natural stocks have dwindled to alarming levels in that meeting the domestic demand alone is a problem without providing alternative sources of fish.
Aquaculture therefore presents the major alternative to natural water bodies in as far as fish production is concerned. Uganda is widely covered by free-flowing water that can be utilized for aquaculture production, and even the large water bodies like lakes and rivers can be utilized for fish cage establishments.
A lot is desired about the welfare of these fish, thus the cause for this study. To understand fish welfare, the 5 Freedom Model was constituted to define welfare, and these include:
- Freedom from hunger and thirst.
- Freedom from environmental challenges (e.g., water quality or temperature).
- Freedom from pain, injury, and disease.
- Freedom to express normal behavior.
- Freedom from fear and distress.
In aquaculture, particularly with fish farming, large numbers of fish are confined in a small area, which can cause serious welfare problems.
Tilapia and catfish, which are the main types of fish kept in fishponds, that are around 35cm long, can be given the space equivalent of just a bathtub of water each.
Additionally, with aquaculture, fish are more susceptible to disease and suffer more stress, aggression, and physical injuries such as fin damage, along with lack of space, overcrowding which also lead to poor water quality, so the fish have less oxygen to breathe in the long run.
The behavioral requirements of most of the fish species used in aquaculture are poorly understood.
It is unlikely that the conditions in intensive fish farming meet even the basic needs of fish. For example, rearing fish in these locally made ponds/cages prevents their natural swimming behavior.
Fish are naturally migratory and would naturally swim great distances in natural water bodies. Instead, they swim in circles around the ponds, rubbing against the mesh and one another, thus compromising the fish welfare.
Pellets, the major fish feed in aquaculture, is often given to fish in a stressful procedure. Some fish may be starved for two weeks or more before emptying the gut. It’s important to note that because of the nature of the ponds, natural feeds called phytoplanktons are rare in artificial ponds.