Fish Farming in Tanzania – Characteristics, Structure, Resources and More

Fish Farming in Tanzania – Characteristics, Structure, Resources and More

Fish farming in Tanzania has a huge but untapped potential. Freshwater fish farming dominates the industry. Small-scale farmers engage in semi-intensive and extensive fish farming. Mini fish ponds with an average size of 150m2 (10m x 15m) are integrated with other agricultural activities like gardening and bird and animal production. Currently, there are an estimated 14,100 freshwater fishponds across Tanzania’s mainland. Additionally, a big rainbow trout farm measuring 25m x 25m is located in Arusha.

Several factors affect the distribution of fishponds in Tanzania. These factors include water availability, availability of land suited to fish farming, motivation, and awareness of the economic benefits of fish farming among the local community.

Despite the fact that shrimp is profitable globally, shrimp farming is still being experimented with in Tanzania. Some private enterprises have bought plots of land and acquired permits to culture shrimp. There’s the potential for shrimp farming to be profitable in Tanzania. However, there are widespread fears about the potential socio-economic and environmental impacts based on observations of the industry globally.

In recent times, seaweed cultivation has gained popularity in some coastal regions as a means of generating income. Small seaweed farms are managed by groups of youth and women. These farms are spread along the country’s entire coastline, from Mtwara in the south to Tanga in the north and in the islands of Zanzibar and Mafia. Seaweed farming has quickly emerged as a major cash crop in Zanzibar and Tanga, generating enough revenue to cover household expenses. The species cultivated are Eucheuma spinosum and Kappaphycus cottonii. Kappaphycus cottonii is indigenous to Tanzania, while E. striatum and Eucheuma spinosum were initially imported from the Philippines. There’s potential for the cultivation of other species of seaweed like Glacilaria.

General Overview and History

Tilapia Fish Farming in Tanzania

Tilapia displayed in a local market
Tilapia displayed in a local market

The history of fish farming in Tanzania isn’t well documented. Balarin (1985) asserted that fish farming in Tanzania began in 1949 with preliminary work on the culture of tilapia fish at Korogwe, Tanga Region, and Malya, Mwanza Region. Many ponds were built for experimentation, and many of them ended up being unproductive because of a lack of proper management and the utilisation of unsuitable technology, as well as physical problems like poor infrastructure and drought. According to FAO reports, more than 7,500 ponds had been built in Tanzania by 1968. But some ponds were not big enough (some were as small as 20m2) and had very low output, likely caused by poor management.

Water reservoirs built for home, livestock, and factory use or for controlling floods were filled with tilapia. This practice of fish farming in Tanzania began in 1950, and by 1966, the Fisheries division had stocked half of the reservoirs in Tanzania. In 1967, the Tanzanian government started a nationwide campaign for fish farming. The campaign failed because of poor management. For the first time, aquaculture was given some significance in the Fisheries Policy in 1972. Subsequently, aquaculture was inserted into the Fisheries Policy, albeit as a low-priority sector. Many small aid programs have been aimed at developing aquaculture in Tanzania. However, they’ve not had the anticipated favorable outcome.

Curiosity about mariculture started with initial investigations of seaweed cultivation, including the work of Mshigeni, who brought the concept from the Republic of the Philippines. In 1989, the first seaweed farms started in Zanzibar.

There’s great potential for the development of mariculture in Tanzania. With the support of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, a survey was conducted in 1996 to select a site for preliminary shrimp culture along the country’s entire coastline. The result showed that Tanzania has a huge potential for shrimp farming which could be developed from the southernmost area of Mtwara to the northernmost region in Tanga. A total of 3,000 ha was identified as ideal for shrimp cultivation. The potential production value was estimated at over 11,000 tonnes.

However, only seaweed farming can be considered the only type of mariculture that has been successful in Tanzania.

Human Resources

Fish farming in Tanzania largely remains a part-time endeavor. The total number of individuals involved in aquaculture is only 17,100. Of this figure, 14,100 engage in freshwater fish y, while approximately 3,000 are engaged in seaweed farming. Integrated freshwater fish farming, wherein each farmer possesses an average of one mini-sized fish pond, dominates the industry. Seaweed farming, wherein farmers possess mini farms of an average of more than 45 ropes of 15 to 20 meters in length, dominates mariculture. It is still largely a subsistence activity typified by family ownership. The farmers involved in freshwater and marine systems are not well-educated, rarely having gone beyond elementary school. In terms of gender, the ratio is 30 males to 70 females. Youths play a crucial part in aquaculture. They help in fish distribution and pond management, and construction.

Generally, commercial aquaculture isn’t yet established in Tanzania. Nevertheless, several project proposals have been tabled for mariculture, with a special interest in shrimp culture.

Characteristics and Distribution of Farming Systems

Several factors affect fish pond distribution in Tanzania. Availability of suitable land for fish farming, availability of water, as well as motivation and awareness of the local community of the economic benefits of fish farming.

More than 14,000 fish ponds are situated all over Tanzania, with varying potential from one locale to another. Many farmers have mini-sized ponds with an average size of 150m2 that covers an estimated 221.5ha. However, four regions have more than a thousand fish ponds each:

  • Kilimanjaro (1 660)
  • Iringa (3 137)
  • Mbeya (1 176)
  • Ruvuma (4 942)

Land use for fish farming in Tanzania is limited to certain areas. Its use isn’t a problem where water is available because it’s managed by water rights as stipulated in the water policy. Fish farmers often use animal manure as the primary source of fertilizer for their ponds. Many farmers use foods like domestic leftovers, wild grass, vegetables, wheat bran, and maize bran. Due to the small size of the ponds, the production level has been low. Fish ponds are the major system of production, with only one farm utilizing raceways to culture rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss ).

Species of Cultured Fish

Many species, both local and foreign, are being used or have been previously used in fish farming in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region and Tanzania.

Although there are a lot of similarities between the two regions, tilapias and species of the Oreochromis genus dominate fish farming in Tanzania. Oreochromis niloticus is the most commonly bred species because it grows faster than other species.

Other species that could be potentially used in aquaculture are some of the other shellfish and finfish in the marine and brackish waters, like the flathead grey mullet (Mugil cephalus) and the milkfish (Chanos chanos). The North African catfish is another potential freshwater fish that could be bred. The culturable shellfish include crabs, mussels, oysters, mollusks and shrimp belonging to the Penaeidae family. Recently, trials have been held for the culturing of the milkfish strain in marine waters.

The Kappaphycus cottonni, E. striatum, and Eucheuma spinosum are the seaweed species farmed in Tanzania.

Culture Practices

Culture practices in Tanzania include small tanks, a single raceway, and ponds. The ponds have an average size of 150m2, which covers a total area of 211.5ha. Total estimated production stands at 1,552.80 tonnes. The rainbow trout are produced by a solitary commercial fish farm located in Arusha. The farm measures 25m x 25m in size. In 2002, the total output from this fish farm was 5 tonnes. It increased to 6 tonnes and 7 tonnes in 2003 and 2004, respectively. It is anticipated that the output will increase to 15 tonnes in 2006 and 30 tonnes in 2007. Catfish and tilapia are typically farmed in tanks and ponds. During the pre-colonial era, rainbow trouts were introduced into the rivers of the southern and northern highlands. The main aim was to fill up the rivers for sport fishing. Farmers practice the fixed off-bottom style in seaweed farming. The raft style has also been experimented with in the region of Tanga.

Fish Farming in Tanzania; Sector Performance


Data from the Fisheries Division shows that freshwater fish production for tilapia is estimated at 1 522.80 tonnes, valued at $1,327,637.30. The total trout produced in 2004 was 7 tonnes, worth $18 308.63. Catfish production figures are unknown. The marine waters produce seaweed weighing 1,500 tonnes after drying. However, it is only exported, and the earnings amount to $209,241.

Efforts are in place for the breeding of non-finfish organisms, marine finfish, and shrimp.

Trade and Market

Fish produced from aquaculture is not exported but consumed locally. There’s only one farmer known to export cultivated rainbow trout fish to a nearby country. Seaweed, in its dry form, is exported to the US and Denmark. Seaweed exporters purchase dry seaweed from farmers. They pack it and export it to the receiving countries. The species and distance from Dar es Salaam affect the price per kg. Approximately, it is between TzS 180 and 220 for every dry weight kg of K. cottonni. The price per kg of E. striatum and E. spinosum varies between TzS 80 and 100.

Economic Contribution

Presently, the contribution of aquaculture to economic development and national food security is not significant. Yearly cultivated fish production is estimated at 1,522.80 tonnes. This figure represents 0.44% of the 350,000 average yearly fish landings. The effect on poverty reduction is thus also insignificant. Nevertheless, the probability of negatively affecting the environment is minimized because it’s still at the subsistence level.

Currently, aquaculture is majorly a subsistence activity practised by poor families in the inland and coastal areas. However, it offers several benefits:

  • It is a source of income and provides opportunities for employment
  • It is an extra source of animal protein, especially in the rural areas where capture fisheries are absent.

Management and Promotion of the Sector

Institutional Principle

The Fisheries Division is in charge of management and administrative control of fish farming in Tanzania. Specifically, its responsibilities are:

  • Enforcement of regulations related to fisheries
  • Policy implementation and formulation
  • Formulating the fisheries act and related regulations
  • Managing fisheries resources to ensure sustainable use
  • Involving industry stakeholders in every aspect of resource management.

The Assistant Directors of Fisheries assist the Director of Fisheries in planning and development in the aquaculture sub-sector, including Statistics and Training, Quality Control, and Surveillance.

In terms of private sector support, they create awareness of the rational use of resources by organizing informal training and sectoral meetings of the private sector on important issues like fisheries resource utilization.

Governing Rules

Fish farming in Tanzania is governed according to the Fisheries Policy (1997), Principal Fisheries Regulations of 2004, and the Fisheries Act Number 6 (1970) amended to Act Number 20 (2003). There are various other regulations. These regulations aim to safeguard the environment, resource users, and producers and guarantee the safety of aquaculture goods. Therefore, the primary rule governing aquaculture in Tanzania includes international protocols the country is a signatory to or a member by accreditation, fisheries regulations and all other laws on water and environmental resources.

Many steps have been taken to accomplish the aims related to better resource management. These steps include the creation of community awareness about sustainable aquaculture via workshops, meetings, and seminars, as well as the provision of low-interest credits. Individuals investing in commercial aquaculture enjoy a 3-year tax-free period via the National Investment Centre. Other actions include the modification of the Fisheries Act Number 6 (1970) to include the creation of mariculture guidelines, aquaculture, creation of a fish farming booklet, as well as training of individuals involved in aquaculture at various levels.

The Fisheries Division formulates legislation and policies. It also supports the enforcement and implementation of fisheries legislation and policy. These duties are carried out with the collaboration of entities like NGOs, research institutions, fisher communities, and the local government.

Education, Training, and Applied Research

Tanzania has many institutions dedicated to fisheries education, training, and research. The Tanzania Fisheries Research Institute oversees all fisheries-related research activities in the country. The Faculties of Aquatic Science & Technology at the Sokoine University of Agriculture and the University of Dar es Salaam are also responsible for conducting training and research on fisheries. In addition, the Nyegezi Fisheries Institute and the Mbegani Fisheries Development Center are also involved in training.

Research priorities are set by the government through the different research institutions. Decisions are usually based on both long and short-term criteria. Long-term criteria are for planned development, while short-term criteria are for issues needing immediate attention. Government institutions take part in setting research funding, setting research priorities, and training researchers.

NGOs also finance research and work with farmers to develop and implement research projects and systems for delivering information. Due to the fact that the aquaculture industry is still done at the subsistence level, on-farm participatory research is not being practiced.

Development, Issues, and Trends

In December 1997, the fisheries policy was officially signed. The document established the fish farming in Tanzania sub-sector’s development priorities. In 2003, it was followed by the modification of the Fisheries Act Number 6 (1970). The Fisheries Regulations were subsequently modified in 2004.

A strategic course of action that includes an annually-reviewed action plan has been developed by the Fisheries Division. Trials and studies have been done to determine the feasibility of developing aquaculture by diversifying into the production of other species, as well as expanding the export market. Seaweed is the only aquaculture product Tanzania exports. It has shown an upward trend. Nevertheless, the huge potential for mariculture is largely untapped. Moves have not been made for the integration of aquaculture with other sectors like the environment due to the fact that the industry is presently at the subsistence level. Many management steps have been planned and put in place in expectation of the expected development of large-scale aquaculture and the possibility of its negative effect on the environment.

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