Kent Vieira

Tilapia farmer, Kent Vieira, tends to his fishing ponds, which occupy 44 acres of land at Orange Grove Road in Tacarigua last Friday. —Photo: Jermaine Cruickshank

AS THE world still grapples with Covid 19 pandemic, food security has become an imperative goal for every nation and is crucial to any country’s economic survival.

Express Business visited aquaculture farmer, Kent Vieira, tilapia fishing pond last Friday, which is called Kent Farms Ltd, occupying 44 acres of land at Orange Grove Road in Tacarigua.

Vieira said the mega farm has been operational since 2018 and cost $3 million to start up fully.

“The market has been kind of weak and I have not been making much sales from the tilapia. This is because I have been competing with the imported fish from China and Miami, that the supermarkets and other retail market prefer to buy because the cost is must cheaper.”

Last week, Vieira received $176,317.20 from the Ministry of Trade’s grant fund facility for small and medium-sized enterprises.

This fund is applicable for manufacturing, agriculture and agro-processing as well as financial services, maritime services, creative industries, software design and applications, fish and fish processing and aviation services.

Vieira said the fund has assisted with the purchase new machinery and equipment for a feed mill so the company can supply itself and sustain its fish nursing and processing operations with locally manufactured feed as opposed to imported feed. This would save foreign exchange.

He noted that with the feed mill he can now produce the fish much cheaper, which will make the locally produced tilapia more competitive with the imported fish.

“I sell the fish at 500 grams for $20, which is already scaled and gutted.”

The aquaculture farmer said the fish farm has the potential to produce 70,000 fish a day. He said, though, the downside is that with warmer temperatures, there is greater evaporation from the ponds and fish can’t live outside of the water.

“All the cages were submerged with water, but because of the water loss, I had to move the fishes to other cages that have a substantial amount of water. I have asked the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) to build a well, but they declined as they said the area where the farm is situated, was under pressure for water due to other manufacturing companies around.”

He stressed that the fishing pond is being underutilised and drew reference to the School Feeding Programme.

“We had a meeting in January 2019 and in May people from the programme visited the farm. In August 2019, I received a call saying there were issues with the audit they did and they would return but to date no one contacted me. Fish was taken off the school feeding programme after a bone got stuck in a child’s throat. However, I had indicated to the persons in charge that I had a deboning system which gets rid of the bones and the fish can be served as a steak, filet or fish meat ball but it never materialised.”

Vieira noted that he saw the tilapia fish farm as a viable market and revenue earner for the country as climate wise, T&T can produce year round and can consistently supply markets.

“Over 280,000 fishes are in the cages. I was supplying fresh tilapia to two popular supermarkets but when Covid-19 struck in March, I decided to do frozen fish instead, so I would not have to be going into the supermarkets often with the pandemic, but sales slowed down tremendously. All is not loss, as I have been getting a lot of interest from PriceSmart to supply the fish at their various shopping chains, so I am optimistic that it actually comes through and that the Kent Farms Limited brand can be known and respected.”

Asked whether the fishing industry is dying, he said no as the marine fish is still being sold but the tilapia fish is not well known up to this date.

He said a campaign needs to be done throughout Trinidad and Tobago to educate citizens on the nutrients and protein one can get from the fish.

Vieira added that an official from Agriculture Land and Fisheries Ministry assured that the through the communications department they will start to sensitise citizens on the importance of the type fish.

He noted that there needs to be more education about aquaculture production, as it is a very viable business.

Statistics outlined in the State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2018 report showed a 5.8 per cent annual growth rate globally during the period 2001 to 2016. Aquaculture, it said, continues to grow faster than other major food production sectors.

Vieira, who is 47-year-old and originally from Point Fortin, said that he has been in the fish-farming industry for 20 years. He gave credit to his agriculture teacher at Point Fortin Secondary for helping him in find his passion for fish farming.

He explained when he got the idea of developing the mega tilapia farm, the 44 acres of land in Tacarigua was advertised for lease by the Agriculture Ministry in 2015 and he applied for it and was successful ahead of seven other applications.

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