Nestled between two hills on the foot of Aberdare ranges in Ihururu village, Tetu, Nyeri County, Chania River snakes through precious indigenous trees, creating a cool environment. The cool breeze is refreshing as one drives towards Trout Valley, our destination.
“Life should taste as good as trout,” reads a sign at the gate of the fish farm. Gichohi Gachucha, the owner, says he started the farm eight years ago when he saw a business opportunity.
“I’ve always loved trout, and I grew up knowing its economic potential,” he says, adding, the area’s cool climate is good for the fish.
Gachucha, a retired government radiologist, started the farm with 7,000 fingerings that he bought from the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI) at Sh12 per inch and put in five ponds.
“The first step in rearing trout is to ensure you have sufficient water because the fish needs it in plenty,” says Gachucha, whose farm has expanded since then.
He notes that trout cannot brood in captivity, that is in ponds, so when its eggs are ready, a farmer should harvest and put them in a bowl.
“This exercise should be done in a shade. The same process is repeated on the male fish. One then mixes the eggs and the milt for fertilisation.”
The eggs are then put in a tray filled with water and placed in a hatchery. They hatch into fries after 20-23 days, and should be left for a month.
“The fingerlings are introduced into raceways or canals that resemble steeplechase pools for them to grow to three inches before they’re put in a normal pond. A fingerling goes at Sh15 per inch.”
Trout takes 10-to-12 months to attain 250 grams depending on feeding and husbandry, with the farmer selling each at Sh400.
“I feed the fish pellets and since they are carnivorous, they mostly eat aquatic creatures in the water,” he says, adding, a farmer should ensure the fish diet is 60 to 70 per cent protein.
Trout Valley has 12 raceways in a makeshift hatchery, three six-metre diameter ponds, two 12-metre diameter ponds and four fallows covered with linen used in rearing fish. All the fish ponds on the farm have an underground outlet that takes the water back to the river.
COVERS THE PONDS WITH NETS
According to Gachucha, it costs a farmer between Sh150 to Sh200 to rear each fish making it an expensive affair.
“One limiting factor about trout fish is that one should keep it in an area with clean, cold and free-flowing water with temperatures averaging 20 degrees Celsius,” says Gachucha, who farms in are area where temperatures vary from 11 to 18 degrees Celsius.
Then there are also predatory birds, which love the fish; Gachucha ensures that he has people to ward them off. He also covers all the ponds with nets besides fencing off his farm.
He sells some of his fish at a restaurant on the farm, with visitors having an option of catching the fish themselves and getting it cooked or buying what is already prepared for them.
“Most of those who come here catch their fish and wait for it to be cooked for them,” he says, adding that customers can choose which sex of the fish they want to eat. According to him, most female customers prefer male trout but the men don’t care.
Trout is affected by diseases that include fin rot, which is mainly caused by overstocking and failure to clean the ponds. He, however, liaises with county experts in the fisheries department to combat diseases.
“Farmers trying to venture into the fish business should ensure they engage experts to succeed,” Gachumba advises.
For farmers willing to start a fish farm near a river, Gachucha advises that they must assess the area well to know where to exactly place the ponds.
They are then supposed to get a permit from licensing bodies like Water Resources Authority and the National Environment Management Authority to allow them to use the water.
“The most important thing is to ensure that the farm is designed in a way that the water runs back into the river clean. Fish is used as a bio-indicator since it cannot live in polluted water.”
National Trout Hatchery Assistant Director of Fisheries Justus Nyaga says farmers planning to rear trout can do so in flowing rivers or reservoirs, provided there is clean water.
“The fish requires different temperatures at various stages. In the hatchery, the temperatures of the egg and fries should be between nine to 13 degrees Celsius, but an optimum of 11 degrees is preferred.”
The growers should be reared in a temperature of between 15 and 18 degrees Celsius while the brooders do well in the same environment.
However, a farmer who wants the fish to mature fast can increase the temperatures by one or two degrees. “Farmers should ensure the flow of water is maintained and constant throughout,” he says.
The essence of cold flowing water and not stagnant pond water is to maintain high oxygen level for the trout to survive.