Seed is one of the basic inputs of any agricultural production activity, yet quality and readily available fish seed is one of the important drivers of the aquaculture industry. In Uganda the aquaculture sector has grown very rapidly in the recent years, with several approaches towards commercialization of this industry. Aquaculture is now seen not only as source of dietary protein but also as a means of generating income through improved productivity and managing aquaculture production as a business venture. This has attracted a new class of farmers; however, issues of fish seed availability and quality are still a major challenge. There is currently one government hatchery and 35 private hatcheries in Uganda, with majority of them operating at small scale level and poorly distributed to ably serve all fish farmers in the country. The private hatcheries face several challenges including: low survival rates (10%), lack of technologies for mass production, poor quality broodstock, cannibalism, poor facilities, among others, leading to very low quality and quantities of fish seed. Currently seed production from hatcheries is estimated at a National average per hatchery per cycle of 15,192 and 9,832 of fingerlings of catfish and tilapia respectively (NaFIRRI, 2010). This kind of production is so low, compared to what is required to cover the 300,000MT fish gap that cannot currently be met by the national fisheries production, due to the dwindling wild fish harvests and low aquaculture production. It is therefore important to find strategies to increase both quality and quantities of fish seed production in the aquaculture sector of the country.
The African catfish is an important food fish species native to Uganda and is found in most of the natural water bodies – swamps, streams, rivers and lakes. The species is highly sought after as a preference in aquaculture in the country because of a number of its desirable attributes that make it attractive for aquaculture development. The species is easy to reproduce, accepts artificial feeds, tolerates high stocking densities, tolerates poor water quality, grows rapidly, its highly sought after in the local, regional and international markets, and its economically viable in pond culture systems - the most common culture system in the country currently (Matsiko & Mwanja, 2007). These attributes have generated a high interest in catfish farming in Uganda, but in spite of this interest, the enterprise has remained largely at subsistence level due to three major constraints - poor quality seed, rampant disease outbreak both in hatcheries and grow-out systems, and poor quality (low protein) feeds (Mwanja, 2007; Nalwanga et al., 2009; Akoll &
Mwanja, 2012). Feeds quality is being addressed through engaging the current fish feeds commercial producers and encouraging more investment in the area to create competition that may lead to improved quality. The poor seed quality is attributed to poor broodstock management, where a few broodstock have been bred over and over for long period of time (Matsiko & Mwanja, 2007). The inbreeding has resulted into poor farm yields with close to 2% fish in grow-out systems turning out to be deformed. The situation has led some farmers in opting for using uncharacterized broodstock collected from the wild whose performance is not known (Mwanja & Mwanja, 2009).
Nile tilapia is the second sought after species for culture in Uganda, the emerging use of more intensive production systems such as cages and tanks for the species grow-out production has greatly increased the demand for quality seed. Production of tilapia seed entails the use of earthen ponds, happas, hatching trays and concrete tanks systems. The quality and quantities produced vary differently within and between hatcheries, but are mostly characterised by low production.
In order to improve the quality and increase the quantity of African catfish and Nile tilapia fry/seed in Uganda and the East African region, in here we provide guidelines developed for best practices in broodstock management and quality seed production of the two species.