Tilapia – the next potential earning buck for fisheries

22 Feb, 2018

 

Tilapia, the fish commonly known as aquatic chicken for its resemblance to chicken in taste, is the new buzzword in Indian seafood sector, which is looking to diversify from its over dependence on farmed shrimp.

Genetically Improved Farmed Tilapia (GIFT) is one of the important candidate species for aquaculture in India. It has become a fish of choice because it is fast growing and an affordable source of animal protein.

Tilapia is the third most important fish after carps and salmon in the world. India’s contribution for export to outside countries of Tilapia is recently insignificant and holds vast potential for export. This fish is most suitable for culture in tropical zones as the temperatures are highly suitable for fast growth. It can tolerate temperatures of 82-860 F. This fish is a prolific breeder and sustained efforts by several research institutions led to the production of mono sex all male culture. Presently, Genetically Modified Farmed Tilapia (GIFT) is being successfully produced and farmed in our country. This species takes only 6 months to reach to 600-900 gms size from 50-80 gm size stocking.

India now a marginal player in tilapia export is looking to meet the huge demand for the fish in the domestic market and to capture a significant share of about $6 billion global export of the fish currently dominated by China, by promoting large scale farming of the fish even in landlocked states.

Tilapia Introduction to India
The first tilapia introduced to India was the Mozambique tilapia in 1952 (Sugunan 1995). Since the original introduction, populations of Tilapia zilli (1986), O. urolepis (date unknown), O. niloticus (1987) and red hybrid tilapia (date unknown) have been introduced (Singh and Lakra 2011, Lakra et al. 2008, Keshavanath et al. 2004). Currently, the Government of India has authorized importations of only O. niloticus and red hybrids. The major intent of these introductions was to develop a tilapia farming industry, although some were stocked for mosquito control, aquatic vegetation control and as a reservoir fishery.

However, none of these early introductions led to significant production or commercial success. The Indian government recognizes tilapia farming to be a key sector in aquaculture, especially considering the success of other tilapia industries in tropical and subtropical regions around the world.

Farmers looking at neighbouring nations were convinced that improved brood stock was the missing link and began to surreptitiously import new animals. Several of India’s neighbours are major producers of tilapia, so importation was relatively simple. China is the world’s biggest producer, with annual production of 1.8 million tonnes, and Bangladesh produced 300,000 tonnes of tilapia in 2016. Nepal and Myanmar are also significant producers.

In 2009, the government realized that numerous undocumented shipments of tilapia were entering the country and that many farmers were beginning to work with the fish without any quarantine, biosecurity, organization or planning. The Marine Product Export Development Authority (MPEDA) organized a conference to address this issue and invited an international panel of experts to discuss the situation and provide recommendations about how tilapia aquaculture should be organized and regulated. Subsequently the government developed guidelines for importation, biosecurity, quarantine and licensing. This has allowed the tilapia industry to rapidly expand in an organized fashion. Production has now grown to 18,000 tonnes per year.

Tilapia farming
Tilapia farming which originated in the Middle East and Africa has now become the most profitable business in several countries. Tilapia has become the second most popular seafood after crab, due to which its farming is flourishing. It has entered the list of bestselling species like shrimp and salmon.

 

The largest producer of tilapia is China. Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines and Taiwan also supply maximum tilapia in the global market. Tilapia is being farmed in about 85 countries, and about 98 per cent of tilapia produced in these countries is grown outside their original habitats.

 

The most common breed of tilapia farmed around the world is Nile Tilapia/Nile Perch, which accounts for roughly 75 per cent of farmed tilapia. Tilapia is tolerant of a variety of aquaculture environments; it can be farmed in brackish or salt water and also in pond or cage systems.

 

Tilapia is seasonal. It can survive and breed only in warm water. The ideal water temperature for a tilapia farm is 82-86 degree. Fish will start dying below 55 degrees, and you will see a drop in the growth rate. Hence, India is suitable for tilapia farming.

 

Tilapia starts breeding three months before being big enough to eat. It has an extremely high breeding rate. An adult tilapia female fish can produce up to 100 fries per week. Many breeders manage the breeding by making use of hormones to breed male tilapia.

 

Most farmers choose to keep only male tilapia in the grow-out stage. Male tilapia has proved more profitable as they grow bigger and are more time and energy-efficient. Female tilapia tends to waste energy and time due to breeding.

 

Tilapia is the second most farmed fish in the world and, but the commercial farming of tilapia is limited in India. Even though this fish was introduced in India long back (in 1952) and there was a ban on tilapia in 1959 by the fisheries research committee of India, recently tilapia farming was approved with certain conditions in some States. Genetically improved tilapia (GIFT) farming was approved with some guidelines.

 

The Nile Tilapia was introduced to India during late 1970s. In 2005, river Yamuna harboured only negligible quantity of Nile Tilapia, but in two years’ time, its proportion increased to about 3.5 per cent of total fish species in the river.

 

Presently in Ganga river system, proportion of tilapia is about 7 per cent of the total fish species. For tilapia farming in India, the optimum temperature for best growth is 15 degrees Celsius to 35 degree Celsius. However, tilapia can survive in 10 degrees Celsius to 40 degree Celsius.

 

The biggest challenge in tilapia farming is different aged and sized tilapia fish in the same pond due to their unconditioned propagation. As male tilapia grows faster compared to female tilapia, one should consider raising male tilapia by separating females which is known as “mono sex tilapia fish farming”.

 

As the male tilapia is well-adopted to supplementary feeding and due to its rapid growth, there is a huge profit in commercial tilapia farming. This fish has a very high demand in local as well as international markets. Providing nutritious food in commercial tilapia production is very important for quick growth and higher body weight of the fish.

 

Culture Systems
Tilapia farming is clustered in Andhra Pradesh and Kerala states. The most common production systems are ponds, with lesser amounts grown in cages, raceways and tanks. For cage culture, state departments of fisheries have leasing and licensing procedures allowing cage culture in public waters. At this point, monoculture of tilapia is relatively rare. Tilapia has been incorporated into polyculture with shrimp, providing an additional cash crop and reduces the incidence and severity of viral and bacterial diseases in shrimp.

In pond culture, farmers have introduced tilapia as an additional polyculture species into traditional carp ponds. Polyculture with carps has been reported in Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu states. Shrimp and carp polyculture provides 3-5 percent of national tilapia production.

Tilapia is also used in aquaponics systems, but these contribute less than 1 per cent of national production. Most farmed tilapia are Nile tilapia Oreochromis niloticus, although there are some O. mossambicus and red tilapia hybrids cultured, especially in areas using higher salinity water for polyculture. Virtually all tilapia produced in India is sold in domestic markets as whole fish on ice.

MPEDA has a licensing program for importation of brood stock to public and private hatcheries. Genetically Improved Farmed Tilapia (GIFT) has been imported in conjunction with World Fish (Singh and Lakra 2011). GIFT fish are currently in a nucleus breeding program consisting of eight private and state department hatcheries. These hatcheries will be the authorized distributors of sex reversed GIFT tilapia.

The currently operating hatcheries use α-methyl-testosterone to sex reverse fry for all-male production (Chakraborty and Banerjee 2009). This procedure is widely accepted around the world for tilapia destined for human consumption. Because the hormone is used at a low concentration for the first 21 days of feeding, there are no measurable residuals in the fish at harvest. Most tilapia hatcheries are privately owned stand-alone operations that sell to a network of grow out farmers.       

Tilapia business
Tilapia, the fish commonly known as aquatic chicken for its resemblance to chicken in taste, is the new buzzword in the Indian seafood sector, which is looking to diversify from its over dependence on farmed shrimp. A vast population, especially the young generation in rural India can be deployed in the fishing industries.

 

India now a marginal player in tilapia export is looking to meet the huge demand for the fish in the domestic market and to capture a significant share of about $6 billion global export of the fish currently dominated by China, by promoting large scale farming of the fish even in landlocked states. Over the years, exports of Indian seafood have been on the increase with many Indian brands in the preferred list of Europe, America and other highly developed nations.

 

The poverty- stricken and protein-deficient population in the country can find an income source and maintain healthy life as well from fish farming. The nutrition value of fish and other marine products has been measured and proven to be one of the highest, as compared to any other commonly available food products.

 

The present market demand globally and in India is for processed seafood. Once the source has been taken care of, processing and value addition can be carried out in MSME units.

 

Ideally, India needs to mainly focus and specialise on some high-value species, climatically most adoptable for farming on the Indian soil and available in our EEZ, such as different varieties of Tuna and for farming, besides shrimp, the country can introduce large scale tilapia farming in a planned manner.

 

Experts believe tilapia fetches around Rs 120 to 150 per kg for the farmer at a cost of production of just Rs 60 per kg. A farmer can make a profit of Rs 60,000 from a three-tonne capacity tank with 60000 fingerlings in a cycle lasting 45 days. Since they can run seven cycles annually the profit can touch Rs 4.8 lakh.

 

As the demand for fish is increasing, diversification of species in aquaculture by including more species for increasing production levels has become necessary. Introduction of tilapia in our culture systems is advantageous because it represents lower level in food chain and, thus, its culture will be economical and eco-friendly. Mono sex culture of tilapia is advantageous because of faster growth and larger and more uniform size of males.

 

Only four fish farmer groups, Aresen Bio Tech, AP, Vijayawada; Ananda Aqua Exports, Bhimavaram, AP; Indepesca, Mumbai; CP Aqua (India), Chennai; and Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Aquaculture (RGCA), the R&D arm of the Marine Products Export Development Authority (MPEDA), are already permitted by the Government of India for the seed production and farming of tilapia (mono sex and mono culture of Nile/GIFT/golden tilapia) in accordance with the guidelines for the hatchery operation and farming of tilapia, developed by the Sub-Committee under the National Committee on Introduction of Exotic Aquatic Species into Indian waters.

 

Non-requirement of feed, resistance to disease and 70 per cent survival rate of the fingerlings keep cost of production down. And unlike other several other species that are bred, tilapia can be grown in tanks, ponds or cages, which add to its advantages.
MPEDA is expecting to raise the production of tilapia output in the country by increasing the seed supply of genetically improved farmed tilapia (GIFT) to the farmers. It recently launched a self-sufficiency project at its hatchery and training complex in Kochi to help farmers export their produce.

Currently, farmed shrimp, particularly vannamei species, accounts for nearly 70 per cent of the value of Rs 33000 crore seafood exports from India.

 

The nutrition angles

Tilapia is a white-fleshed freshwater fish that’s mild in flavour, which makes it appealing to people who don’t like “fishy” fish. It’s relatively low in calories (130 per 3.5-ounce serving, cooked) and rich in protein (26 grams). But if you’re looking for a lot of heart-healthy omega-3 fats, tilapia is not a good choice. It has very little fat—2 to 3 grams per serving, of which less than 0.2 grams is omega-3s (in contrast, both wild and farmed salmon have more than 1.5 grams of omega-3s per serving). Farmed tilapia is particularly low in omega-3s because its diet is predominantly corn- and soymeal-based, in contrast to the omega-3-rich algae and other aquatic plants that wild tilapia feed on.

 

 

Govt. Initiatives
Tilapia was first introduced to India in 1952 and there were several subsequent introductions of various species and strains. However, few if any of these attempts led to much commercial production of fish. In 2009, MPEDA developed a formalized plan to regulate the importation of new stocks and to regulate the heretofore unofficial and unorganized production and trade of tilapia.

 

The newly imposed regulatory framework and its attendant introductions of improved strains, quarantines, biosecurity and market development have finally shown results and led to significant commercialization. The survey conducted in early 2017 provided information supporting a tilapia production estimate of 18,000 t in 2016. Prospects are positive and in 2020 production should be close to 22,000 t.

 

Suggestions for further improvement of tilapia production in India include further distribution of improved stocks, better formulated and floating feeds, deployment of advanced aquaculture production systems and continued quarantine and tighter biosecurity standards. Continued avoidance of misuse of antibiotics and other drugs should be encouraged.

 

Conclusions          

Tilapia was first introduced to India in 1952 and there were several subsequent introductions of various species and strains. However, few if any of these attempts led to much commercial production of fish. In 2009, MPEDA developed a formalized plan to regulate the importation of new stocks and to regulate the heretofore unofficial and unorganized production and trade of tilapia. The newly imposed regulatory framework and its attendant introductions of improved strains, quarantines, biosecurity and market development have finally shown results and led to significant commercialization.

 

The survey conducted in early 2017 provided information supporting a tilapia production estimate of 18,000 t in 2016. Future prospects are positive and in 2020 production should be close to 22,000 t. Suggestions for further improvement of tilapia production in India include further distribution of improved stocks, better formulated and floating feeds, deployment of advanced aquaculture production systems and continued quarantine and tighter biosecurity standards. Continued avoidance of misuse of antibiotics and other drugs should be encouraged.

India is geographically poised to be the world leader in the fisheries sector, Being the biggest peninsula in the world, with its vast coastline of 7,517 km and EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) of 200 nautical miles, network of lakes, rivers and numerous other inland water bodies, it can easily surpass any other nation in fish production.

A vast population, especially the young generation, in rural India can be deployed in the fishing industries.

 

 

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