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TODAY, tilapia is now widely distributed around the world. It has become the mainstay of many small-scale aquaculture projects of poor fish farmers in the developing world.
“The fish is cultured in more than 70 countries,” said Dr. Rafael D. Guerrero III, the executive director of the Philippine Council for Aquatic and Marine Research and Development (PCAMRD).
Fishery experts have dubbed tilapia as “aquatic chicken” because it possesses many positive attributes that suit the fish for a varied range of aquaculture systems.
For one, tilapia tolerates a wide range of environmental conditions and is highly resistant to diseases and parasitic infections.
Other good traits of tilapia include excellent growth rates on a low-protein diet, ready breeding in captivity and ease of handling; and, more importantly, wide acceptance as food fish.
“Tilapia has become a very important fish in the world, especially in Asia and Africa,” said Dr. Guerrero, who holds a doctorate degree in fisheries management from Auburn University in the US. “Where you have a problem of protein deficiency, where there is hunger and malnutrition, people depend on rice and cultured fish like tilapia.”
Next to milkfish (more popularly known as “bangus”), tilapias are among the widely cultured species in the Philippines.
The culture of tilapia in freshwater ponds and cages has been a commercial success.
Currently, there are an estimated 15,000 hectares of freshwater ponds and 500 hectares of cages in lakes and reservoirs producing over 50,000 metric tons of tilapia.
It was not until the Nile tilapia was introduced in the country that Filipinos started to like the fish.
“The Nile tilapia became popular because of its rapid growth, large size and high yield potential,” notes a PCAMRD briefing paper. “Like other tilapias, this species is resistant to parasites and diseases, resistant to overcrowding and has the ability to survive low oxygen levels. They also grow in both natural and artificial fish foods, and utilize manure well. They are excellent table food fish with white firm flesh and no intramuscular bones.”
As a result of tilapia’s popularity among Filipinos, the Philippines is now ranked fourth among the top 10 largest tilapia producers in the world – after China, Egypt, and Thailand.
Other top producing countries, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), are Indonesia, Uganda, Mexico, Tanzania, Kenya, and Sri Lanka.
Tilapia production grew by five percent during the last 14 years, noted the industry strategic plan for tilapia. This served as a major determinant in the gross supply of tilapia in the country.
Tilapia surplus stood around 2,000 to 5,000 metric tons during the same period. In 2020, the surplus is expected to reach around 10,000 metric tons.
The popularity of tilapia has made it as one of the most in-demand fish. “With its wider acceptability in the Filipino table and the growing population, the total tilapia supply needs to be increased,” Dr. Guerrero pointed out.
Here’s a good news: Tilapia products – fresh and frozen fillets, whole and gutted fish — have become important commodities in the international seafood trade.
However, the Philippines “cannot supply the international market with frozen whole fish” since our price is much higher due the more expensive electrical power supply for refrigeration, than those coming from Thailand and Taiwan.
Tilapias are the most important group of fishes of the large and diverse “Cichlidae” fish family, which comprise about 700 species. Cichlids are mainly found in Africa and South America.
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