How To Start A Smoked Fish Business In Nigeria

Fish farming business has taken a new face in Nigeria especially the catfish business. Catfish business is a lucrative business that have provided so many job opportunities to Nigerians. However, Fish is a perishable product that needs to be preserved if it is to be kept for a long period of time. Consequently, smoked fish business is one of the most commonest ways Nigerians preserve their fish.

The Statistics from Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in 2015 has it that, Nigeria is the largest aquaculture producer in Sub-Saharan Africa with an estimated Produce of 1 027 000 tonnes. Yet, they also spent about USD 1.2 billion on importation of fishery products on that same year.

Therefore, it is a clear indication that Nigerians are heavy consumers of fish products and rely on it as one of the major sources of protein. The annual importation of fish products in Nigeria points at the market potential attached with producing fish and fish products in Nigeria.

Smoked fish consumption is popular in so many Nigerian food recipes such as Abacha (African salad), Bitter leaf soup, porridge yam and even stews because of the unique taste it posses.

If you are looking for one the businesses with a great market potential both inside and outside of Nigeria, you can consider this type of business.

Smoked Fish Market In Nigeria

Fishes are  not commodities that last without a proper preservation technique. So many farmers  who are into fish production most times sell off their fishes at the melange stage (300g to 500g) to save the cost of feeding and also to turn over quickly. Fish farmers who are not able to get buyers at this stage can either raise it to table size (600g and above), dry or smoke it.

To be a successful smoked fish producer, you can look out for this opportunity to purchase melange size fishes at the cost of #400 to #600. After smoking fishes of this size, you can sell at a wholesale price of #1200 to #1500. While table size smoked fish of more that 1kg can be sold from #2500 to #3500 depending on the size of the fish.

So, the profit margin solely depends on the number of fishes you are able to smoke in a month – and i must tell you out of experience that it is worth the stress.

Moreover, the market potential for smoked fish is appealing since it is widely consumed in every part of Nigeria especially the southern parts of Nigeria. Most market women that sell food stuffs are potential buyers for the smoked fish because it is one of the commodities that every consumer needs at all times. Secondly, packaged form of this product with a proper NAFDAC registration number is sold in malls and super stores.

Smoked Fish Export Business in Nigeria

Many Nigerians living outside the country still miss their native dishes and are ready to spend to get it irrespective of the cost. In 2014, World Bank supported project tagged Commercial Agriculture Development Project (CADP) recorded their first breakthrough in the United state as one of the exported products from Nigeria. 1

Smoked fish business like every other exportation business may not necessary require enough capital to start apart from few paper works and license to legalize the business. Example of these paper works includes;

See also: How To Start Export Business in Nigeria.

Notwithstanding, the striking challenge that most smoked fish exporters face is meeting the standard of the international community. In that regards, most farmers especially those on a small scale still use locally made ovens or wood charcoal which deposits hydrocarbons to the fishes. These excess hydrocarbons will cause the smoked fishes to be disapproved by the Food Drug and Administration (FDA) or other regulatory agencies.

Therefore, to participate in the export business, you must have products that meets the international standard for exportation by using more sophisticated mechanical kilns.

Fish Smoking Process

The process of smoking fish is straightforward, simple and involves just few steps. Below are the steps involved;

Sourcing of fish

To so many fish farmers that already own a pond, fish smoking is one of the easiest ways to expand the business and make more cash. This is because it is challenging to get sellers who are willing to offer the quantity of fish you require. Therefore, getting a reasonable size of fishes to smoke at all times maybe difficult.

Hence, the best practice is to grow your own fish to melange size (300g to 500g) and smoke or supplement with bought ones.

However, in the case where you are a novice in fish farming business or may see growing fishes from the fingerling stage as something stressful. It is advisable that you resort to buying fishes from big farms who are always trusted to keep the supply coming.

In any case, when sourcing your fish for smoking, always bear in mind that fishes loose up to 35% body weight after being smoked. So, the determinant of the end product of the size of fishes you desire starts at this stage of fish smoking process.

Washing of fish

Most fishes are either slimy or covered with scales – which are not desirable if you are to get palatable fishes. At this stage, there is removal of the fish scales or slime. Also, the gills and the intestine which confers bitterness to the fish are removed.

In most cases, fishes may come with foreign materials such as sands and sticks. Thorough washing will help to get rid of these external materials.

Treatment with table salt

The fishes are put into a big container, table salt is sprinkled on the fishes and covered for some minutes. This is to make the body of the fishes firm and also to add taste to the fish. A variant method of doing this is by rubbing the salt directly on the surfaces of the fishes and allowing it for some time, like 30 minutes before smoking.

Structuring the fish

smoked fish methods

This is the stage you will shape the fish to look the way you want it after drying. Some folks prefer cutting the fishes into sizes while others will bend the tail and pin it with the mouth. The choice of the style depends on the farmer and the taste of his customers.

However, cutting into pieces seems to be the easier method when considering a large quantity of fish to be smoked.

Smoke Drying process

There are different fish smoking equipment used for drying fishes. The most popular of all is the traditional method of using firewood and local ovens but the quality of fish produced by this method is not always of international standard. In addition, this method requires expertise to get a good batch because some of the fish get burnt at the process and is bitter. If you are to use this method, avoid direct fire or excessive smoke to be reaching the fish racks.

The new modern kiln has so many advantages over the traditional ovens of smoking fishes. The mechanical kiln is faster, produces better fishes and at larger batches. But, if you are to start fish smoking, i will advise you build local kilns from welders and go for bigger ones as you expand.

Packaging of fish

Fish packaging is very important because it gives integrity and competence to your work. The more appealing the package, the greater the market potential. Most smoked fishes are selling in malls, superstores and even as an export commodity because they are packaged.

Furthermore, to gain more market potential and sell without limits, i recommend you register the product with the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration (NAFDAC).

How to preserve or store a smoked fish

You have literally done no work if you are unable to preserve your smoked fish till you sell them. Because the fishes are plenty, most smoked fish merchants loose control over the preservation of fishes which will cause deterioration, spoilage and loss of money.

The commonest agent that can cause spoilage of smoked fish is water. Most organisms especially molds that spoil fishes thrive in a damp environment. This can cause physical damage as well as potential health hazards to the consumers of the products.

Below are the few ways you can store your smoked fish to keep it from spoiling.

  1. Routine re-drying: Drying is the cheapest and most effective way of keeping the integrity of your fish to avoid spoilage. As smoked fishes stay longer, they tend to absorb moisture from the atmosphere which can easily cause microorganisms and pests to attack. Therefore, it is pertinent that the smoked fishes are re-dried at intervals if it will stay for along period of time. Methods of drying includes; air drying, sun drying, re-smoking or wind drying.
  2. Effective packaging: Storing of the smoked fish is an airtight container or sealed polythene is another good method of storing smoked fish. In these containers, an organic preservative such as salt or aloe vera is added to prevent the fish from spoiling.
  3. Freezing: This is a reliable method of storing smoked fish since bacteria and fungus hardly survive at freezing point temperatures. The ideal temperature for storing a smoked fish is between +2°C and +4°C.

In addition, storage of smoked fish also includes; maintaining the texture of the fish, avoiding cross contamination and transfer of odor from other substances and avoiding discoloration.


The smoked fish business plan requires a little capital of about #30,000 for a small scale start. The cost of getting a good local kiln from welders is around 10,000 to 15,000 naira. Consequently, the remaining cost can go to logistics and buying of fishes depending on the size. Melange size fishes can be gotten at 400 to 600 naira while table size of 600g and above can be bought at 800 to 1000 naira.

After smoking the fishes, each 1kg of smoked fish is sold at #2500 to #3500. Therefore, after the cost of smoking which is #100 to #200 per fish, the farmer still has a lot of profit to go home with depending on the size of production.

Conclusively, we can say that smoked fish business in Nigeria is a very lucrative business for both fish pond and non fish pond owners.


See also: How to construct Fish pond for fish farming

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