How to Start a Catfish Farm in Nigeria

by Counseal Team

Updated November 26, 2023

In 2015, Nigeria exported 160,000 tonnes of catfish. This was a 39% increase from 2010. Two years later, Nigeria produced 300,000 tonnes and there has been a constant rapid increase in production and consumption till now. So much that Nigeria is known as the world’s largest producer of catfish.

From 1951, when fish farming started in the country till now, Nigeria’s production of catfish keeps expanding. The  Nigerian Government initially dominated catfish farming. And by 1991, when catfish farming had given Nigeria prominence in aquaculture in the world, the government provided an enabling environment for farmers.

We agree with you, now is the best time to start a catfish business in Nigeria.

In this guide, we will show you, step-by-step how to start a catfish farm in Nigeria. We will also touch on some red flags to avoid.

Ready to launch a profitable catfish firm? Let’s jump in!

Step 1: Research

Like any other business, research is essential. You can find helpful materials for your research on Google. The following are the important items you must investigate thoroughly:

Know your catfish

The most common species of catfish in Nigeria are Clarias gariepinus, Heterobranchus bidorsalis, Clarias AND Heterobranchus hybrid (Heteroclarias), and Clarias nigro-digitatus.

The heterobranchus species are common in the southeast while the Clarias species are common in the western parts of Nigeria.  Note also that these two species have been found to grow faster than others.

Also, you need to research where to get your swim-up fry or fingerlings. It is advisable to look at suppliers who have been in business for a while.

Know your soil

You cannot use any type of soil for catfish farming. It is important to know the soil type, soil texture, and mineral of the soil. Hence, a soil test is essential.

The soil test will guide you in choosing the type of pond and depth of the pond. It will also provide you with information on the water retention volume of the pond.

Know your pond: 

The following are basic for any fish pond:

  1. Dukes, also known as pond walls
  2. Inlet and outlet channels for water
  3. Water controls: these control the rate and level of water in the pond.
  4. Harvesting tools: Sweep nets, shock tanks , etc.
  5. Roads and tracks for easy navigation.

For Catfish farming, the following are the commonly used ponds in Nigeria:

  1. Plastic pond
  2. Tarpaulin pond
  3. Concrete pond and 
  4. Earthen pond

We will come back to these pond types..

Security measure

You are wondering, is it not just fish? Yes, it’s just catfish but they are equivalent to good money. And let’s not forget the good taste too. So, you need to research which measures are good for your farm. Some effective measures are:

  1. Don’t cite your farm in a hidden location
  2. Ensure you secure your ponds with nets
  3. Security cameras are handy
  4. You can’t go wrong with having a barbed wire fence
  5. A well-lighted farm is no place to hide

Step 2: Tailor your budget

Some of us like to work strictly with plans, so if you already have a budget, you now know where your budget fits in from your research. If you don’t have one yet, it’s fine too because your research will help you know how much you need. 

However, I will still give you an idea of how much a starting catfish farm can cost. From our discussion under research, some of the essential things you need to consider on your budget are; Land, pond construction, cost of swim-up fry or fingerlings, cost of security, Cost of feed, workers’ payments, etc.

Below is an overview of the cost of setting up a catfish farm depending on location and the factors aforementioned.

Size of FarmLand sizeNumber of catfish Cost
Small-scale catfish farm1-3plots1000₦400,000 – ₦4000,000
Large-scale catfish farm5-25 acres5000 and above₦5000,000 – ₦30,000,000

Step 3: Design your pond

There are types of ponds that are specific to catfish in Nigeria:

Plastic pond: 

Plastic ponds come in various sizes and are volumes from 1000 litres to 20,000 litres. They are made of plastic water tanks. This is a temporary type of pond and cannot be used for large-scale farming.

Tarpaulin pond: 

These are portable fish ponds that are easy to transport, set up and assemble. They are made from tarpaulin materials. They come in different sizes. For instance, the smaller ones can accommodate about 300 fish while the bigger ones can accommodate about 1000 fish and above. This is also a temporary pond.

Tarpaulin pond 2
Tarpaulin Pond

Concrete pond: 

There are two methods of concrete ponds; the flow through method and the water recirculation method. The former requires regular release of water for pond maintenance and increased oxygen for the fish. The latter, just as its name implies, is simply a system where water is recycled. It reduces heating and cooling costs.

Concrete ponds are expensive hence, you don’t want to spend a lot of money on a concrete pond that will not last. So, don’t do the following:

  • Construct with clay soil. This makes your pond prone to leakages.
  • Construct with thin concrete. Your concrete must be 4-6 inches thick
  • Construct a porous pond. Concrete is prone to leaching lime and other harmful chemicals. To avoid this you have to seal your pond with waterproofing chemicals such as vinegar acid.

Earthen pond: 

This is the largest of them all and it is constructed from soil materials. They are also the most common for large scale catfish farming in Nigeria. There are two types; the embankment pond and the excavated or dug-out pond. 

The embankment ponds are constructed through damming a small stream and can be constructed on stream sites where the slope is steep enough to limit the size of the dam. Excavated or dug-out  ponds are just as the name implies constructed by digging out an area fed by springs and run off. Simply put, a hole in the ground.

Step 4: Start Farming

It’s time to start your catfish farm if you’ve followed the 3 steps above!

Your pond is now ready for production. First thing to do at this point is get a healthy supply of  catfish, swim up fry or fingerlings. Now is also the time to decide if you want to have a hatchery for selling out fingerlings or you want to sell the ‘big fish’.

I’m sure you are already wondering what swim fry and fingerlings mean. I’ll explain, relax.

A swim fry is a stage in the life cycle of a catfish. As soon as the spawn or eggs assume the shape of the fish and grow to about 1–2 cm it is known as fry. At this stage they are primarily smaller size zooplankton feeders. It takes about 7 to 10 days for the spawn to grow up to the fry stage. Once the yolk is used up and fish have developed mouth parts, the fish will “swim up” to the surface of the tank and search for food. This is the swim fry stage.

swim fry 2
Swim Fry

Once the fry is up  to 10–15 cm size or roughly equal the size of a finger it is called fingerling. It is the proper size for stocking in table fish production ponds. It takes about 30–60 days for the fry to grow up to fingerling size.

Catfish fingerlings 2
Catfish Fingerlings

A  juvenile catfish is between 6-8 weeks old. This is slightly older than a fingerling which is between 3-4 weeks. You need either of the two to start your catfish farm.

Juvenile 2

Now it’s all coming together.

Next thing to consider at this point is the feed for your catfish. Feeds for Catfish are mainly plant based with some fishmeal and animal protein. It is vital to get a good supplier and stick with them.

Another important thing is your farm management and team. Be sure that your farm manager is experienced and has people skills. You also need a consistent Veterinary doctor. One thing I’ve learned is that you get tremendous output from your team when you treat them well. So note it.

Now, you have a catfish farm! Well done!

But, there will be red flags you must look out for…

Red flags to avoid for Catfish Farming in Nigeria

Farm Management issues

You might not want to spend much money setting up your catfish farm and then lose it all. So, you must avoid sentiments during recruitment. If you can’t trust your family and friends, then don’t involve them. Make sure you recruit trusted and experienced professionals.

It is also important to keep a constant check on your staff. Do this through regular reports, video chats, regular picture updates with backing documents. This includes keeping close track of financial books. No stone must be left unturned when it comes to regular information of the farm.

Don’t use different suppliers

It is safest to use one trusted supplier rather than testing too many suppliers. For your fingerlings and feeds, not sticking to one supplier might reduce the quality of your production. You can have another just for backup but having more than that is risky.

For instance:

A quality bred fingerlings should weigh between 13-15grams. But, some suppliers who want quick profit don’t mind breeding with any fish. And, they don’t mind what size the fingerlings are. You will be open to the risk of producing less quality fish if you buy from such suppliers.

Avoid treating your catfish yourself

The same way self-medication is wrong for humans, treating your catfish yourself is wrong. Except of course you are a Vet doctor. No matter how experienced or vastly read you are about catfish, the role of a Vet doctor cannot be overemphasized. 

Now to the money part.

Catfish farming in Nigeria has gone beyond just producing fish and selling them. There diverse avenues to make money from your catfish farm:

Tips for making profit from Catfish Farming in Nigeria

Sell fingerlings/ juvenile: This requires you to have a hatchery from which the fingerlings or juveniles will be harvested for sale. This means you don’t have to wait till the catfish is table size or bigger to sell. Some farms in Nigeria only focus on this area but you can do more…

Sell freshly harvested catfish:  This category has the highest number of demand. You need a strong marketing team who will reach out to eateries, hotels, Bars, caterers,etc. The grown fish is consumed widely all across Nigeria.

Catfish pepper soup 2
Catfish Pepper soup

Sell frozen catfish: You could also get good freezers to store harvested fish that will be sold later. You can sell this in kilos or in boxes depending on what your customers like.

Sell frozen catfish 2

Sell smoked catfish: Another way to make money from catfish is by smoking and drying. You could either use the local method or buy the special made machines for this. The machine method is actually faster and gives more output.
The best business to venture in with the economy of Nigeria is the food business. And, catfish is food. The demand for catfish in Nigeria keeps rising and the sector expands every day. Hence, this is a good time to start your catfish farm in Nigeria. With the steps I have shared in this article, you can start your catfish farm seamlessly.
We would love to read your comments on this article. If you still have any concerns about starting a catfish farm in Nigeria, speak with one of our experts.

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