With the increasing commercialisation and continuing growth of the tilapia industry, tilapia is not only the second most important farmed fish globally next to carp but is also described by some as the most important aquaculture species of the 21st century.
The average production growth of farmed tilapia reached 10.1% between 1999 and 2018 with production increasing from 3.49 million tonnes in 2010 to 6.03 million tonnes in 2018. Changes in consumer preferences for boneless tilapia fillets, its relative easiness to cook and availability of ready-to-eat products as well as the affordability of tilapia have all contributed to this rapid growth in demand from all consumer segments, from low-income consumers in developing countries in Asia and Africa to high-income consumers in developed countries.
The development of Genetically Improved Farmed Tilapia (GIFT) – through traditional selective breeding techniques to improve commercially important traits – by WorldFish and partners is a major milestone in the history of not only tilapia aquaculture but also the aquaculture of tropical finfish as a whole. WorldFish estimates that more than 50% of global tilapia production is from GIFT and GIFT-derived strains.
Tilapia in India
However, the tilapia is just gaining popularity in India, according to a report on the Worldfish website by Modadugu Vijay Gupta as he discussed consumption and production trends in India.
In India, fish consumption is steadily increasing, and the government has set a target of achieving annual consumption of 12kg/capita by 2024-25 against an estimated consumption of 5.6kg/capita in 2018-19. To achieve this goal, Indian authorities has set a target of producing 22 million tonnes of fish by 2024-25 as against a production of 13.75 million tonnes in 2018-19 – an increase of about 8 million tonnes. Much of the increase in production is projected to come from inland aquaculture.
Experience from other countries has shown that tilapia is a species suitable for these intensive systems, in addition to farming in low-input pond culture. The government is keen to increase production from reservoirs by farming fish in cages. At present, the species farmed in these cages are mostly Pangasius as carp have not yet shown potential for farming in cages. Under these circumstances, Nile tilapia can play an important role in increasing production – both from traditional farming and from intensive/commercial production systems – and contribute to increased exports from freshwater aquaculture, which so far have been negligible.
Tilapia in Indian aquaculture
The ban on the farming of Nile tilapia was lifted in 2009 and the government of India formulated guidelines for responsible farming of the species. State governments were mandated to monitor, control and surveil hatchery, nursery and farming facilities. Biosecurity and licensing are the key aspects of the guidelines and the state governments are authorised to issue licenses and register farms.
Under the guidelines, some private hatcheries, and companies as well as the Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Aquaculture (RGCA), part of the Marine Products Development Authority of India (MPEDA) were allowed to import commercially viable tilapia strains from overseas and set up multiplication centers and hatcheries in the country. In 2019–20, close to 94 million fry was produced by about 11 licensed and more than 25 unauthorised tilapia hatcheries. The major strains produced by licensed hatcheries in India were GIFT, Chitralada and Golden.
While there is a steady increase in the production of tilapia in West Bengal, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Kerala, the major hub for commercial aquaculture production in India, Andhra Pradesh, farms primarily Indian carps.
Farmers are not keen on tilapia farming in the absence of an assured market for large production. Some of the main factors for low production of tilapia in India are the non-availability of quality seeds, lack of awareness and knowledge of the species among farmers and consumers as well as limited access to markets.
There is untapped potential for increasing fish production through the farming of tilapia in India. What is needed to harness this potential is to create awareness among small-scale farmers and homestead growers as well as consumers of the multiple benefits of producing and consuming tilapia; ensure the availability of quality seed to both small-scale and large-scale commercial farmers; and provide incentives to seed producers, growers and exporters.
In 2011, RGCA collaborated with WorldFish to establish a satellite breeding program for GIFT. However, the seed produced was minimal and not able to meet the demand of even a small number of farmers. Some private entities have been importing seeds of other strains of tilapia such as Chitralada and Golden. If India is to attain its potential in terms of increasing production and exports through the farming of tilapia, there is a need to establish brood stock banks, multiplication centers, licensed hatcheries and nurseries, among others. There is also a need to establish breeding programs for strains other than GIFT for faster and sustained scaling.