The National – Tuesday, February 1, 2011
By JAMES LARAKI and DENSLEY TAPAT
AQUACULTURE, also known as aquafarming refers to the breeding, rearing, and harvesting of plants and animals in all types of water environments, including ponds, rivers, lakes, and the ocean. Similar to agriculture, aquaculture can take place in the natural environment or in a manmade environment.
The farming of fish is the most common form of aquaculture and involves raising fish in tanks, ponds and other forms of enclosures mostly for food and to generate income. Fish species raised by fish farms include salmon, big eye tuna, carp, tilapia, catfish and cod.
Aquaculture has become an important source of fish available for human consumption. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations, global aquaculture production has grown at 11% a year over the past decade and is projected to continue increasing. Expansion of this industry globally has been fuelled by the increasing demand for fishery products coupled with declining catches from marine bodies. As a result aquaculture has become an important economic sector in many countries.
PNG has a huge potential for aquaculture development, particularly for small to medium-scale farmers. Numerous efforts by the PNG government and FAO in the 1950s could not trigger the aquaculture industry. The progress has been slow since, either commercially in the private sector or small-scale farming in rural communities. This is so despite its potential with the availability of large and diverse freshwater as well as marine environments. PNG is also home to most of the important tropical aquaculture species such as barramundi, freshwater prawns, freshwater crayfish, sea cucumber, tropical sponges and corals, groupers, marine prawns, mud crabs, giant clam and pearl oysters.
The National Fisheries Authority (NFA) through an Aquaculture Technical Coordinating Meeting with stakeholders in June 2007 identified limitations associated with aquaculture development. It identified the need for the development of suitable feeds, production and distribution of quality fingerlings, networking and collaboration, commercialisation, marketing, health and bio-security issues, and extension support.
A recent assessment of inland pond aquaculture development and research activities by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research indicated the need for the development of effective feeding and pond management strategies. It noted the growing needs for fingerlings for carp, tilapia and trout.
The potential to culture native species like eels, freshwater prawns, crayfish and catfish was also highlighted.
Through the smallholder livestock development project, the National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI) is embarking on aquaculture development through a new initiative supported by the National Government with a view of promoting income earning opportunities and as a food source in rural communities.
Under this project NARI is looking at the use of local materials as feed source for pond fish and appropriate feeding practices for available fish species. It is also looking at mini-hatchery for fingerling production, pond development and integrating fish with other livestock species such as poultry. The genetically improved farmed tilapia (GIFT) is being used.
Aquaculture work on station has shown to be promising and it is being piloted out in three provinces, Morobe, Western Highlands and Central.
A series of trainings are being conducted for potential fish farmers in these provinces to encourage local participation and promote small-scale village based fish pond operations. With proper management, small-scale fish farming could easily become a source of income and means of household food security for rural inland communities.
The trainings involve practical demonstrations and information sharing sessions on inland aquaculture planning, pond design and construction, pond management, and on-farm fish feed making using locally available feed sources. Participants are being encouraged to share their knowledge with others in their communities.
These trainings will also identify needs and issues faced by farmers in the rural communities. NARI will continue to deliver targeted training and demonstrations on inland aquaculture to encourage and promote aquaculture.
Despite the potential and increasing interest for aquaculture development, aquaculture research and development has not received much recognition. Trained manpower and infrastructure for research and development in aquaculture is also limited.
Collaboration between key players of the industry is also lacking. Efforts by NARI and others in promoting aquaculture research and developments in the country need to be supported. Collaboration and partnership efforts are required to the develop aquaculture to its full potential.
Using appropriate aquaculture techniques and technologies, the aquaculture industry has shown that it can grow, produce, culture, and farm all types of freshwater and marine species. PNG could do the same if all players play their part in a coordinated manner.
The aquaculture sector, like that of agriculture, has huge untapped potential in farming aquatic organisms. It provides enormous opportunities to empower rural people with food source and generate income.