Sunday, June 21, 2009


High production of Tilapia using oxygenated tanks.
Tilapia in Belize


Seven farmers wishing to start tilapia fish farming ponds and one technician from the Agricultural Fisheries Department left the country, to go to Antigua, Guatemala under the auspices of the Taiwanese Technical Mission, to assist economic development of Belize. The Republic of Taiwan has AID missions in agriculture in several countries around here, and has experimental farms in Guatemala and Belize that we know about. There is one such Taiwanese farm in the Department of Peten, that we passed recently on the highway to COBAN, which came as a surprise to us.
At any rate, our contingent of would be, fish farmers in pond cultivation of fish, will be attending a three week course, at the Finca La Grande near Antigua, Guatemala, on an intensive course to study how to grow fish in ponds for export markets. I might even take the bus over there myself one day. As a retired commercial fisherman I’m interested in this subject and have failed to get any good information on techniques and statistical data from our Belizean government for the past seven or eight years on the subject. The government has advertised fish farming to death, for propaganda purposes in the newspapers, but were never able to actually deliver the necessary experience and technical data to be useful for a commercial enterprise. We note there are a couple of practicing fish farms down on the coast of this country, operating in a commercial sense. This fish farming course is supposed to teach our Belize farmers and Fisheries Department personal the technical and practical hands on experience, to maximize output of pond fed fish farming.
There was a formality about this three week course, as the government trotted out the big-wigs, to see our potential fish farmers off at the airport. Present at the send off at the airport were: The Cabinet Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Rene Montero, the head of the Taiwanese Technical Mission in Belize, Mr. Tzen Huey Wang and the Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Agriculture, Mr. Gabino Canto were present at the airport sendoff, to see no problems ensued. None of the big wigs have a penny invested in fish farming, which should tell you something?
Fish farming has presented commercial opportunities for a couple of decades in Belize. We have in the past eight years, tried numerous times to get information about fish farming and indeed have been willing to invest a $100,000 in a fish farming project. Which for us on the small scale of Belize is a huge sum of money for us. Unfortunately, the much ballyhooed, fish farm cement tank at the Belize Agricultural College in the decade past, when investigated, had no statistical data, and no information, or reports at all; about how to go about this business on a small commercial scale. The couple of ventures we read about in the newspapers, either collapsed, or were secretive and we were unable to get investment data enabling us to run feasibility studies. For our purposes we were interested in the cost analysis, the profit margins expected and since we studied this stuff a decade or more ago, the capacity for production of pounds of fish fillet, in a given time, using concentrated tank ponds, using floor based oxygen pumping bubble aeration of the tank water. We got some nice figures a decade ago out of California, in swimming pool size fish tanks. Translating that production data to Belize was impossible and we have never been able to quantify the feed sources for the fish here in Belize, the cost of same, the amount of fish, or in the end the amount of pounds of exportable fish fillet, per cubic yard of water. What we needed were extrapolated numbers of fillet pounds of fish, per cubic yard of water, of an enclosed fish farm tank, within a specified time. Was it profitable or not was the big question? The prices for farmed fish in the USA is far different than what one can expect in Belize, as production wholesale costs. Far as we know, nobody yet in Belize has any statistical data available to investors in successful, commercial , tilapia fish farming in Belize. At least we have never been able to get any useful practical data. The idea was, that if it proved workable on paper, we would put in a pilot project and then have something to sell for additional investment capital. It never worked out. We were unable to even get information on fish feeding supplies. In our life time we have done a lot of pioneering experimental sea food work around Belize. Always there have been glitches that prevented production from realizing the potential. You can imagine therefore, our reluctance to invest our savings in something for which there are no good successful examples and historical data. I well remember the decade we spent creating the deep water red snapper fishing segment of our industry. Our final commercial investment crashed on the obstacle of Government controlled prices for fillet fish sold on the local market, or at our cooperative. I lost my $40,000 red snapper converted fishing boat on that gamble. We caught fish alright, but were unable to turn a profit. Between the difficulties of getting sufficient bait, and the difficulties of getting flake ice, ( lost trip production time – which costs money as an expense ) then getting hit with the government controlled sales price on fish fillet, we lot our shirts. Our production costs were $4.50 bz a fillet pound, but the Government controlled price was set at $1.50 a pound. We had to sell our ocean going fishing equipment at a heavy almost complete loss and went out of business. Obviously then, we want to know a heck of a lot more about the details of tilapia fish farming before attempting it in Belize. When the government has some cost analysis studies on commercial fish farming and not lagoon, or back yard playing around, let us know where to find the reports, information and photographs. We will even take the time to go study a successful producing operation. Until then, I’m keeping my savings in the bank. What the politicians and bureaucrats say and what real world results are actually, can be totally different. Salaried people simply shrug their shoulders and walk away if I lose my money. They have no responsibility to the investor they convinced in trying. I no longer believe anything they say, until they show me.
The civil service bureaucrats are usually losers when it comes to doing pilot projects and experimental commercial data. Not sure why that is, but there are probably myriad reasons? Things like budgets, shortages of funds and budget switching, the nine to five day shift mentally when they go home and say to hell with equipment that must be run all night, or at least supervised. You name it, there are a whole lot of reasons why government pilot projects fail. Should this government get a $700,000 Bz grant however to do a bunch of tank experiments, we at our Belize Development Trust NGO would be happy to do the experiments for them and publish same. We are interested in this subject and are highly skilled at the marine production business.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great observations. What was the net (fishing pun intended) of the $700,000 government project? Is fish farming feasible in Belize?

I too come from a fishing background in Alaska with halibut, salmon and crab so I am able to sympathize with your frustrations. Big risk big payoff possibly big loss that's the name of the game as you know.

What are the largest problems (costs) with farming tilapia in Belize and how can we best avoid these? Thanks