Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Fish theft on our tilapia farm

In this post I would like to discuss something which many people don't consider before entering fish farming. That is the potential of theft of your fish. Just as people steal herds of cows so too can they steal fish. I touched on this subject in an earlier blog post and today, I would like to tell you about our experience with it and what we have done to rectify this problem.

It is easy to think that fish won't be stolen, after all they have a very short life outside of the water, unlike land based animals. It still occurs and because the fish are out of your view, if they are in a lake or in cages in a lake, you won't know they have been stolen until it is time to harvest and your numbers, are way down. In that sense it is a perfect crime waiting to happen because the owner may not even know if there are fish missing.

We only discovered we were being robbed when the thief left his flip flops behind. Here in Brazil everyone wears Havaianas (a popular brand of flip flops). My husband brought these back to the house and said, “you left your flip flops out by the lake.”
To this I replied, “those aren't mine!”

It was at that point we knew someone had been in here at night. When we looked at where my husband found the sandals we could see drag marks across the grass to the corner of our property. The thief had filled bags full of fish and dragged them to his bicycle which was waiting in the shadows of the road.

We telephoned the police and they arrived but of course there was nothing they could do. They did tell us that what we do on our property to secure it and our business is down to us. (within reason of course)
We have dogs but we found that the thief had been feeding the dog which was loose at the time to keep it quiet. We saw margarine tubs and bags. Because people in this area burn their own trash, we had assumed these had blown in. We were wrong.

When I look back now at how easy we made it for someone to steal our fish, I am angry with myself as well as the thief.

Our lake was surrounded by tall reeds making this an ideal hiding place. We also had long grass growing near our fence which obscured our vision of the property line. 

We knew that the fish would have to be sold the following morning and knew that it would be a Thursday or Friday night the thief would return.

My husband cut down the long grass near the fence. Cutting the reeds was going to be a mammoth task so in the short time we had (one week) we decided to place broken glass in the area he had walked in and out of the lake. This is something which many of the walls have cemented across the tops to prevent someone climbing over them.

Wearing camouflage clothing my husband waited up on the outside terrace for him to return. If he came in, again he wasn't going to be leaving in the same condition. Armed with a piece of hardwood the length of a baseball bat, my husband watched and waited. I joined him on the front terrace sitting in the dark waiting. Just before 1am we saw a bicycle approach. We are the last house on our dead end lane and anyone who is there, shouldn't be. Because our eyes had adjusted to the darkness we could see him moving in the shadows. This was about 150meters away.
I don't mind telling you my heart was beating like crazy and my palms were sweating. My husband is in his mid 60s and an amputee but he had already worked out his route to approach him from behind. This thief wasn't going to be leaving without some serious damage. First was going to be the knee caps, the head, and then the body. He was going to be made an example of!

If this sounds extreme, wait until you are put in this position. We are not like the typical foreigners who come to Brazil. Most have full time housekeepers, and gardeners. We have neither and we work harder than anyone I know.
Here in rural Brazil, there is an uneducated percentage of the population which thinks if you are a foreigner, you are rich and it is okay to steal from you. The anger I still feel about this incident, although several years has passed, is still there. I would have had no qualms seeing my husband inflict repeated blows to this man.

Because we had cut the grass near the fence, I believe the thief knew we were on to him and rode away.

Making changes
We have made some changes since that incident including improvements to the fence. We have several runs of barbed wire on reinforced concrete. This is okay until someone brings a pair of pliers and cuts the wire. Still it is a visual reminder.

Better watchdogs. Although we had two mutts we added to this with a Brazilian mastiff. These dogs, although gentle with their owners can bring a man down with their sheer size. The downside with dogs is people here poison them by throwing tainted meat over the fence. This is what I have been told although it has never happened to us.Here in Brazil, as long as you have a sign up warning people you have a dog, you face no problems if your dog injures or kills someone who enters without your permission.

Better lighting around the property. Thieves like the cover of darkness. Adding lights also helps neighbors and their dogs to keep a watch out for people on your property.

Cutting of the reeds. This was a huge job and we did hire someone in to help us. Although we love to see the reeds and enjoy the privacy they provide, they allowed the thief to hide in them.

Obstructions:At the time we had fish in cages and in swimming free in the lake. To ensure no fishing with a net could take place we submerged large tree branches. This would snag any net being used.

Better cage security:We also securely tied the tops of the cages down. It has been known that some thieves will cut the plastic below the water line and put a bag over the opening. The fish swim out of the cage and into the bag.

We also changed the lights in the house and put some on a timer switch. If someone thought people were still awake, they would be less likely to enter. 

We have not had a problem since this occured.
 I have read that in some areas of the Far East they will have someone sleep on a platform near the fish cages to prevent theft. 
I am aware of large shrimp farms near here which hire armed guards to protect their livestock. There are always options available which need to be weighed up which is best for your situation.

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