Rosemary Kariuki: passionate about ornamental fish keeping.

A civil servant tests the waters in ornamental fish rearing and finds it viable

By Caroline Mwendwa

The enthralling sightof an aquarium in a hotel or a living room always appears like a shopped décor from a supermarket or imported from overseas. However, as we find out from Rosemary Kariuki an ornamental fish keeper, behind these beautiful glassed aquariums, are unique farms of fishponds hosting rare breeds of fish whose beauty reveals the unfathomable patterns of nature. But what drove her into this unusual business?
Being a civil servant at NSSF (National Social Security Fund),Kariuki set about in search for a viable business that would fit her tight schedules and stillaugment her salary efficiently. In this quest, she tried many trades. “I tried to keep rabbit, but the market proved unreliable, then I changed to poultry, and the business was flooded with farmers doing the same,” she recalls. Her business urgewas howevernot depleted and when she came across a farmer rearing ornamental fish in her village in Kirinyaga, she was intrigued.
What appealed to her most about ornamental fish rearing, is its negligible costs. “Unlike other agribusiness ventures I had ventured in before, rearing ornamental fish presented the least of demands,” explains Kariuki. These fish she says eat very little and require minimal labour.
“Unlike chicken and other domestic animals, ornamental fish can stay unattended for an entire week and still thrive, all you need to do, is check on them during the weekends, and add water if necessary or give food,” she elaborates.
Kariuki begun this agri-business with two ponds, in one she reared tilapia, the other she put gold fish, one of the most reared ornamental fishes. “With the tilapia I realised that they barely grew given their frequent breeding which led to poor nutrition, their market was also shaky compared to the gold fish, and so I opted for gold fish” she narrates. Kariuki gave out the few tilapia she had in the pond and replaced them with gold fish. She has never regretted the decision to focus on this breed of fish and today she owns ten ponds, and has diversified to a variety of the ornamental fish. “In my ponds I have guppies, sword fishes, gold fishes among others,” she explains.
When Kariuki got into this business at first, she lacked knowledge on market prices and would sell her beautiful fish at very low prices. “After I set up ponds and put in fingerlings, my next move was to look for market,” she states. “On asking the man who introduced me into the business where he sells his fish, he referred me to River Road in Nairobi, where people dealing in aquariums are based, and there I found a willing buyer,” she continues. Kariuki’s newfound buyer would not connect her to other buyers and instead monopolized the deal. “Leave me your contacts I will be calling you to deliver the fish whenever I need them,” was the response she got. They agreed on a price of Kshs 100 per fish and being new in the industry, Kariuki stuck with this one buyer but felt there were more opportunities out there.

Fortunes unfold
On one afternoon while watching television, Kariuki stumbled on an aquarium dealer who explained to the viewers that he makes and services aquariums. The would be buyer of Kariuki’s precious fish gave contacts and she grabbed the opportunity. Supply met demand and Kariukihad crossed to the right side of the business, and since then she has never turned back.
When the new buyer came to see Kariuki’s fishes, she proposed to sell each at Kshs 150 and the buyer agreed without bargain. This prompted to her to ask around about the market prices.So she went on an inquiry mission and learnt that ornamental fish are sold per inch, the larger the fish the more it is worth. It struck her that she was making almost half of what she ought to have been making. Considering that a male Sword fish can grow as big as 5.5 inches and the gold fish can grow as long as 23 inches, Kariuki was no doubt settling for a low deal. “When the buyer came for the fishes, I had made up my mind to tell him point blank that the terms had changed,” she recalls. Even though he didn’t at first agree to the new terms we agreed that I would start with Kshs 130 per inch and gradually move to Kshs 150, and so we made a pact that we have never broken,” she continues.
Asked how many fishes she has at the moment Kariuki explains, “All I know is that seven years ago I sprinkled about thirty fingerlings in the pond, as at now so many have been bred and fertilized, I have sold so many and still they multiply and grow.” Scientists say that the female gold fish lays up to 500 eggs at a time and once the eggs are released the males fertilize them.It is also true that a fingerling takes a month to add on an extra inch which means that their growth is steady.

Why choose the aquarium fish?
Many aqua farmers choose the farm fish especially the tilapia which is also called the aquatic chicken. A pescetarian may be wondering why on earth someone would rear fishes that won’t be consumed after all.  Kariuki however has weighed reasons why the aquarium fish are good for business.
“To begin with, whether there is market or not, the aqua farmer rearing these kind of fish is on an advantage. As the older they get, the bigger and so are the returns,” avers Kariuki. Scientists have proven that some of them like gold fish can live for up to 30 years.
Unlike the farm fish such as catfish which can only lay eggs on earthen soil, some aquarium fish instead of laying eggs, breed live fingerlings, which makes it easy for them to grow in a pond. While the tilapia will multiply and spend time looking after their young ones instead of feeding, the aquarium fish are heavy eaters and will feed as long as there is food to eat. “Due to their inability to control themselves when feeding, some of them die from overfeeding,” explains Kariuki.
There is plenty of options when it comes to feeding fish.For example the growers’ feeds eaten by chicken are also fit for the fishes, this can be alternated by the flour obtained from maize, soya and millet as well as yokes of boiled egg especially for the fingerlings. “Most animal feeds can be used on fish as well,” adds Kariuki explaining the reasons why rearing these fishes is not in any way expensive.
“With the ornamental fishthere is always market and at times the demand is more than the supply since they are not seasonal like the farm fish,” she concludes.

Kariuki laments the insufficiency of water especially in Nairobi where she has set up some of the ponds. “We only rely on spring water as the city council prohibits using the water that is meant for domestic use on such courses as fishing”, explains Kariuki further stating that even though the county council allowed use of the water, it is still not suitable as chlorine affects the fishes.
Kariuki also points out that she faces challenges in maintaining the liner that holds the water. ‘’the heat of the sun weakens the liner and can even tear it up, and replacing it is usually very expensive,” she says.
Another downside of rearing fishes in a pond is the danger of losing them to the wild birds or even worse to diseases. “The exposure of the fishes to birds is dangerous as some of these birds eat them up,” explains Kariuki.  Sickness is another ill that betides this business. “If one is unlucky enough to buy a sick fish and it shares a pond with the rest, there is a likelihood that all the fishes in that pond will be infected,” she adds. Kariuki warns that it is not advisable to give medicines to the fishes. “If the fishes are infected one is advised to take the fish with a sample of the water in the pond to the ministry of fisheries, or give them salted water since in most cases the infection is usually bacterial,” she elaborates.

Future plans
Kariuki aspires to sink boreholes and expand her business as this would solve the challenge of insufficient water. “If I had more space, I would settle in the business,” she quips.