Coming from a lineage of fish traders, Shoukat Hussain planned on using his computer expertise to improve the trade. With an aim to bring the fisheries online, entered the trade using modern technology and e-sales. However, with tough international competition from Thailand, Vietnam and India, his plans quickly turned to dust.
Fish farming takes place on much larger scales, using biofloc technology, internationally. The technology involves keeping fish in controlled environments in small tanks, with measured temperatures and oxygen levels. In the aqua farms of Vietnam and Thailand, the use of specific barometers helps maintain the water density and the concentration of minerals in water in check, further enhancing the quality of fish.
For startup entrepreneurs like Hussain the only viable option was to compete with international products on the same technological grounds.
With the pandemic affecting his fish farm - Assam Biofloc - he tried to arrange for similar tanks, designed using biofloc technology. This, however, proved to be of little help, as the use of such technologies demanded experience.
Nevertheless, collaborating with persons employing the technology in other countries, Hussain was able to further his enterprise. He sought help from people in Bangladesh and Vietnam.
After a year of tough competition and losses, Hussain was able to earn profit by exporting fish to markets in Indonesia.
By using new found techniques, Hussain was able to cut down on losses and generate revenue, despite having less capital and area for farming.
Speaking to The Express Tribune, Hussain said the use of biofloc technology could further strengthen the fishing industry in the country. In contrast to other animal breeding industries like poultry, fish farming is easier and cheaper, he added.
With an initial investment of around Rs80 on a fish, a six-month-long process of nurturing can increase their weight. The final produce can be sold for Rs300 in the market, he said.
Moreover, Hussain explained that small fish were usually exportable while bigger fish could meet the needs of the local market.
According to Hussain, fish farms in Landhi, Gulshan-e-Maymar and North Karachi have already started using biofloc technology.
Elaborating on the technology, Hussain said that a 1,000 fish could be bred in the tanks that are about four feet deep and roughly six to seven feet wide. In time and with more experience, these same tanks can be used to nurture up to 1,500 fish. Substances like lime, salt and molasses are required to keep the water free of pollutants. The daily maintenance of the tanks requires changing around 10 litres of water from lower levels of the tank. The setting cost of the tanks, with civil fees and plumbing charges, is around Rs70, 000.
Adapting to power cuts and load shedding, oxygen supplying equipment would need the power produced from generators or solar panels, he added
The same tanks can be used to breed shrimp using biofloc technology, he said. Given the seasonal nature of the produce, it is advisable to start breeding in the month of March, so the fish can be sold later in the winter season.
Sharing his expertise and experience, Hussain has started training other interested entrepreneurs in the trade and the specific uses of biofloc technology.
With over 200 students taught in the past two years, Hussain aims to train all those interested in aquaculture and is now working with NED University to modernise the trade.
Hussain wishes to see an import-free fish market in the country, with high quality fishes coming from local producers and aquaculturists.
This story is part of a weekly series that seeks to bring to light the unsung heroes of Karachi - the hawkers, traders, doctors, teachers, engineers, lawyers and daily-wage labourers. It is they who make Karachi the city of lights.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 15th, 2021.