A Charlotte County man is helping people in West Africa raise fish at an affordable price.

Jon Steeves, 26,  who works for Cooke Aquaculture in St. George, has been trying to help people in Ghana streamline their aquaculture business to meet the demand.

In February he travelled to Sogakope, Ghana to help set up a fish pond near the Volta River.   

People in the West African country already raise tilapia, a mild white fish that grows quickly, but Steeves said the cost of imported feed makes it a tough business.

"It didn't make sense to me that we couldn't figure out how to make feed. I mean they're in the river right beside us and they're getting to market size so I thought what can we use from the river and what can we use locally to make our own feed," said Steeves.

He said current practices made it difficult for fish farmers to meet demand.

"They only currently produce enough to meet about 21-percent of the demand."

Farmers were importing their feed from Israel and Brazil, but imported feed is expensive, eating up about 80 per cent of a fish farmer’s budget. Steeves thought, if the farmers could source their feed locally, they could save money.

Steeves turned to locally sourced ingredients such as adapting a recipe for chicken feed using corn, soybeans, and fish meal — local ingredients that could be bought for a fraction of the price of imported feed. The local feed is also supplemented by growing algae in the fish pond and introducing fast-growing duckweed from a nearby river.

The plan has slashed feed costs by as much as 60 per cent.

Nicholas Abbah Abbeto, who manages a fish pond on Sogakope, Ghana, said the new feed system seems to be working.

"As I'm sitting here now the water is green, and the fish are very active, they are growing," he said.

"If it continues like this we will gain some profit and that would lead to much expansion of the project."

Abbah Abbeto said if the project expands, that could help Sogakope's youth unemployment problem by providing more jobs for people in the area.

By fall, Steeves and Abbah Abbeto hope the tilapia will have reached market size. Any money the fish farm makes will go back into the project.

Challenges along the way

So far the project as been a success but Steeves said though high-priced imported feed was the biggest problem, there were other hurdles to overcome.

At one point during the project, someone stole the pond's pump. Other problems they encountered included the van containing juvenile fish, known as fingerlings, broke down. Throughout the project the group also had to deal with hoses breaking, the pond wall breaking -- though luckily there were no fish inside at the time, and dealing with invasive frogs eating the fingerlings.

Along with the operational challenges, the climate also made things difficult for Steeves. He said the temperature often reached about 50 degrees Celsius everyday. He also said maintaining power was a problem with outages happening every third day or so.

He said some nights he would wake up covered in ant and mosquito bites. Once, Steeves said, he woke up to find two venomous brown recluse spiders climbing on the wall near his bed.