STARKVILLE — Commercially grown catfish in North America or Africa face similar challenges, a fact that sent one Mississippi State University veterinarian on a training mission to Nigeria in June.
Dr. Skip Jack, a professor of pathobiology and population medicine at MSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine, spent almost three weeks teaching Nigerian catfish farmers, veterinarians and students about health issues related to their fish. He was part of the Farmer to Farmer project, teaching under the oversight of the U.S. Agency for International Development.
“They don’t have the same catfish we raise, but fish, no matter what species, have similar bacterial and viral problems,” Jack said. “Nigerian catfish producers deal with the same issues of water quality and fish response to infectious diseases, even though their diseases are somewhat different from ours.”
Mississippi and U.S. farm-raised catfish are channel catfish, or Ictalurids. Those raised in Nigeria are called African or walking catfish and are the Clarius species.
Jack said Nigerian catfish producers manage their catfish differently from their counterparts in Mississippi.
“Nigeria is just above the equator, and their fish are much more low-oxygen tolerant than ours are,” Jack said. “They don’t have to provide the aeration that our ponds require at times.”Jack spent two weeks teaching week-long sessions to aquaculture professionals with the Fisheries Society of Nigeria, or FISON. He spent one week in Lagos and one week in Abuja, the Nigerian capital. He spent the final four days in Ibadan, working with Christian Veterinarians Nigeria, the University of Ibadan Veterinary School and the Federal College of Animal Health and Production Technology.
“I team-taught with a Nigerian veterinarian who does fish work, and I talked with several faculty members at the schools who want to come here, work at our clinic and learn some of the things we do,” Jack said. “We also talked about putting together a book on fish health for Nigeria.”
Dr. Charity Oche, executive secretary of FISON, said growth of their industry depends on producers receiving training from aquaculture experts. She said Jack’s expertise in this field was several years ahead of what was available in Nigeria and very useful.
“He was attentive and eager to answer all questions, shedding more light using America’s experience with channel catfish,” Oche said. “We are planning a second visit for Skip to teach the same workshop because we believe the number of professionals who attended is not representative of the number of people who can benefit from this training.”
Nigeria is a nation of 168 million people located in West Africa. It is a federal constitutional republic with oil reserves that generate tremendous revenue. It is part of the Commonwealth of Nations, formerly the British Commonwealth, and English is widely spoken.
“Nigeria has half the population of the United States in an area the size of the Southeastern Conference,” Jack said. “Eighty percent of the food in Nigeria is imported.”
Catfish production is not a major industry in Nigeria, but no aspect of food production is big business in the country. None of their catfish is exported.
“Most of their catfish are either sold fresh in local markets or made into a smoked catfish product that is fabulous,” he said.
Nigerian catfish operations are small, with a large pond there covering 2 acres. In the United States, ponds typically cover 8 to 10 acres. American catfish ponds have significant government controls to protect food safety, a topic Jack discussed when he guest-lectured.
“I talked about food safety concerns and antibiotic resistance. They don’t have restrictions on the use of antimicrobials in food animals that we have,” Jack said. “In the United States, we can use only three antibiotics in food fish. There, they can use anything they can get over the counter.”
Oche said Jack taught veterinarians and industry professionals simple ways to manage fish health that don’t require antibiotics as the first course of action.
“The participants knew some methodologies to use but needed some form of authentication,” Oche said. “A workshop of this nature is meant to review the expected global standards and fill in gaps where standards are lacking, correct what is being done wrongly and strengthen right actions.”
Jack’s trip to Nigeria was coordinated by the U.S. Agency for International Development and Winrock International, an organization headquartered in Little Rock that links expertise at American universities with needs abroad. MSU’s veterinary college was asked to address this training need. Jack was chosen for the task. His wife Lynda accompanied him.
It was Jack’s first trip to Nigeria, but not the first time veterinary expertise has taken CVM faculty out of the country. Jack has worked in Mongolia with Christian Veterinary Missions. Others have worked in Vietnam and South Korea, and plans are underway for a research trip to China.
“It is important for those teaching veterinary medicine to students to understand and research the food safety issues associated with the changes that come with international trade, increased travel and other globalization issues,” said CVM’s Dean Dr. Kent Hoblet. “As such, we fully support our faculty taking advantage of these research abroad opportunities.”