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Breeding Eels In Africa

by the Fish Site Editor
26 February 2010, at 12:00am

GLOBAL - Africa is going to export eels. That is, if it is up to the Ripple Fish Company. Under the supervision of scientists from IMARES, Ripple Fish wants to breed eels on a large scale in Madagascar.

The company has already carried out tests with glass eels on a small scale, and is now building a large breeding facility. Olivier Schneider from IMARES negotiated a contract of 1.7 million Euros, which was signed this month. IMARES will contribute knowledge about sustainable breeding methods and ways of exploiting the African eel. 'We facilitate; the company is responsible', explains Mr Schneider.

Dutch scientists are determined to prevent an eel crisis at all costs. The species has been decimated in Europe, partly because glass eels have been overfished for breeding purposes. 'We are not going to sit and watch it go wrong and then explain why it went wrong', says Willem Dekker, an eel expert who is closely involved in the African eel venture. 'We can learn a lot from our experiences in Europe.'

Mr Schneider too is aware of the dangers of overfishing this last relatively unscathed eel population. 'The African eel has not yet been overfished and it must stay that way. We don't want a repeat of the European situation.' Besides optimising breeding, attention will be paid to fish food and sustainable waste disposal.

Mr Schneider: 'We still know very little about the African eel. We shall first have to focus on basic breeding practices such as optimising temperature, feed, water flow, density and of course animal welfare.' Because all activities, including building fish farms, fishing for glass eels and processing the end product, are done locally, the local population benefits from the project.

Mr Dekker thinks there is tremendous potential, especially since the African eel is a champion when it comes to growth. Glass eels weighing less than 1 gram grow into giants of 1 to 2 kilos within six months. The European eel takes at least two years to do that in a heated fish tank.

Eel expert Mr Dekker is enthusiastic about the project. 'It could be a great thing,' he says. On the other hand, he realises that IMARES is exporting knowledge which could lead to the same deterioration in the eel population as we have seen in Europe. Global demand for eels is enormous so there is a danger that this last intact eel population could be destroyed. 'Ripple Fish has a sound businesslike approach but it also has good intentions and some idealism', says Mr Dekker. 'Besides, nature conservationists and development organisations are watching this project with eagle eyes.'

the Fish Site Editor