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SME Guide

From Fry to Harvest: A Beginner’s Guide to Fingerling Catfish Farming in Nigeria

Nigeria’s aquaculture sector is rapidly expanding as demand for fish continues to rise. Catfish farming in particular presents a highly profitable opportunity for agripreneurs. Producing quality fingerlings is the vital first link in the catfish production cycle. This guide covers key aspects of establishing and managing a successful fingerling operation in Nigeria.

An Overview of Fingerling Production

Fingerlings are juvenile fish under 1.5 inches long, weighing less than 10 grams. Catfish reach this stage 4-6 weeks after hatching. High-quality fingerlings are the foundation for profitable catfish farming.

Significance of Fingerlings

  • Fingerlings are sold to catfish grow-out farms for further rearing to a market size of 1–1.5 kg.
  • A steady supply of genetically robust, disease-free fingerlings is crucial for aquaculture expansion.
  • Each female catfish produces up to 15,000 eggs. Even with mortality, this allows massive fingerling output.
  • Nigeria faces a fingerling shortage, offering lucrative opportunities for producers.

Stages of Fingerling Production

Broodstock management: selecting and breeding quality broodstock catfish

Hatching: incubating fertilised eggs for fry emergence

Nursing: raising free-swimming fry to fingerling stage in tanks or ponds

Weaning: transitioning from live to artificial feed

Grading and hardening: sorting into uniform sizes and conditioning for sales

Selecting a Suitable Farm Site

Site selection is a foundational decision impacting fingerling development and sales.

Key Siting Criteria

  • Adequate land: at least 1-2 hectares of flat, low-lying land
  • Water availability: sustainable year-round supply
  • Power supply: for aeration, lighting, and pumping
  • Road connectivity: To transport fingerlings to customers
  • Market access: proximity to aquaculture clusters

Farm Structures and Layout

  • Dedicated hatchery and nursing tanks
  • Lineup of rearing ponds (2–10 ponds of 500–1000 m2 each)
  • Feed storage sheds
  • Equipment garage, office, staff quarters
  • Gravel or concrete access roads

Water Supply Infrastructure

  • Boreholes or surface water intake
  • Overhead tank and piping network
  • Settling pits and filtration units

Broodstock Selection and Breeding

The genetic quality of broodstock largely determines fingerling traits like survival rates, growth velocity, and disease resistance.

Broodstock Sources

  • Acquire disease-free broodstock from reputable farms.
  • Select vigorous fish of uniform size, ~1–1.5 kg weight.
  • The ideal sex ratio is 1 male to 3-4 females.

Stocking Densities

  • Keep broodstock at a ratio of 1 fish per 2-3 m2 of pond area.
  • Stock both males and females together for natural mating.

Inducing Spawning

  • Inject mature females with commercially available pituitary hormones.
  • The optimal dose is 0.5–0.8 ml per kg of body weight.
  • Spawning occurs 24-36 hours post-injection without intervention.

Egg Harvest and Incubation

  • Install hapa nets in the pond for egg collection.
  • Harvest eggs within hours of spawning.
  • Disinfect eggs with a potash solution and incubate them in trays with clean, aerated water.

Nursing Fry to Fingerling Stage

Meticulous fish husbandry is vital as fry transition through initial rearing phases.

Newly Hatched Fry

  • Incubate for 48 hours post-hatching before transferring to nursing tanks.
  • Stock fry at 40–60 pieces per m2.
  • Provide artificial lighting to initiate feeding responses.
  • Feed crushed feed 10-15 times daily, using small, frequent portions.

Nursing Tanks

  • Rear fry to ~1.5g size in 1-2m diameter plastic or concrete tanks
  • Maintain a depth of 30cm and a water temperature of 28–32°C.
  • Install sand filters and aerators; change 10% of the water daily.

Weaning off Live Feed

  • Gradually wean fry onto artificial starter feeds from days 12–15 post-hatching.
  • Combination feeding with live feed can continue for 1-2 weeks to improve survival rates.
  • Pellet sizes should be adjusted based on fish growth.

Pond Nursing for Fry

  • After attaining ~1g, transfer fry to prepared nursery ponds.
  • Stock at a rate of 20–30 fry per m2 of pond area
  • Provide artificial feeding 3-5 times per day along the pond edges.

Monitoring Growth

  • Observe size uniformity and record daily mortality.
  • Adjust feeding rates based on appetite and mortality.
  • Take sample weights monthly to assess the growth trajectory.

Achieving Optimal Fingerling Development

Careful management in the fingerling production stage ensures sturdy, uniform fish for sales.

Maintaining Pond Conditions

  • Test the water regularly and maintain a pH of 7-8 and dissolved oxygen levels above 3 ppm.
  • Use aerators; change 5–10% of the water every 2 days.
  • Monitor ammonia and nitrates and manage plankton blooms.
  • Implement biosecurity protocols to prevent disease spread.

Feed management strategies

  • Give a balanced, floating fingerling feed with 25–40% protein content.
  • Feed 2–5 times daily using automatic feeders or at fixed locations.
  • Adjust the daily ration and feeding frequency based on fish appetite.

Health Management

  • Keep nets, buckets, and tanks clean to prevent bacterial and fungal infections.
  • Remove dead fish promptly to curtail outbreaks.
  • Use salt and potassium permanganate dips to manage common parasites.
  • Work closely with Aqua-Vet to diagnose and treat health issues.

Grading and hardening

  • Size-grade fingerlings every 2-3 weeks for uniform growth
  • Hold larger groups. 2-3 weeks pre-sale for hardening
  • Harden fingerlings by simulating transport conditions.

The Economics of Fingerling Production

Proper financial planning and cost monitoring enable profitable fingerling operations.

Planning Production Numbers and Sales

  • Model operations to rear 6–8 million fry annually, sell at ~1.2 million fingerlings
  • Stock multiple batches each week to ensure consistent availability.
  • Schedule fingerling sales to avoid gluts and shortages.

Estimating setup costs

  • Land acquisition and farm construction
  • Broodstock and fry
  • Hatchery equipment like incubators and tanks
  • Water supply infrastructure
  • Feeds, chemicals, and gear like nets and buckets

Estimating operational costs

  • Feed costs (~60% of the total)
  • Salaries for farm managers and labourers
  • Utility bills, fuel for power generators
  • Marketing and transport costs
  • Medical supplies, drugs, and vaccines
  • Maintenance and contingencies

Potential Revenues

  • Selling at N150-N250 per fingerling, revenues from 1.2 million can reach N180-300 million annually.
  • Hatchery-grade catfish eggs can also provide an added income source.

Marketing Strategies for Fingerlings

Employing smart marketing strategies helps maximise fingerling sales and profitability.

Assessing market demand

  • Research the location of commercial catfish grow-out farms.
  • Estimate their fingerling quantity requirements.
  • Interact with farmers to understand desired fingerling traits.

Offering competitive pricing

  • Benchmark competitor fingerling pricing
  • Set prices, considering production costs and customer affordability.
  • Offer price incentives on bulk purchases.

Maintaining a Reliable Supply

  • Ensure the capability to deliver the required volumes when needed.
  • Honour commitments even when market prices rise.
  • Avoid short-changing regular buyers.

Providing customer assurances

  • Offer health guarantees and replace dead fingerlings.
  • Share details on vaccination protocols.
  • Provide authentic sources, ages, and genetics.

Developing Brand Identity

  • Invest in product branding and packaging.
  • Market fingerlings directly to farms
  • Participate in aquaculture trade fairs.


With its growing aquaculture industry, Nigeria offers tremendous scope for fingerling production. Fish farmers can secure a steady income stream while playing a vital value chain role. By adopting sound management practices, agripreneurs can establish thriving fingerling enterprises. Nigeria’s aquaculture output stands poised for further growth on the strength of robust fingerling production.


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