Tony Vieira's Comments
18 October 2017

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Tilapia
(Aired 21 July 2011)

     Tilapia has become the third most important fish in aquaculture worldwide after carps and salmons. Because of their large size, rapid growth, and palatability, a number of tilapia fish varieties are at the focus of major aquaculture efforts throughout the globe, some countries are even trying to breed them to grow in more temperate climates but mostly it is grown in the tropics, in our part of the world production of tilapia is concentrated in Ecudor 90% and Brazil.

    Tilapia has been established as the easiest and most profitable fish to farm. This is due to their omnivorous diet, mode of reproduction (the fry do not pass through a planktonic phase), tolerance of high stocking density, and rapid growth. In some regions the fish can even be put out in the rice fields when rice is planted, and will have grown to edible size (12–15 cm, 5–6 inches) when the rice is ready for harvest. One recent estimate for the FAO puts annual production of tilapia at about 1.5 million tonnes annually, a quantity comparable to the annual production of farmed salmon and trout

   There are over a hundred species of Tilapia which comes in several colours, but the red and black tilapia are the most well-known species for aquiculture in the tropics, both types can thrive in either fresh or brackish water (mix of fresh and seawater).. Skinless and boneless Tilapia fillets of any variety looks completely white when cooked, making it an excellent substitute for nearly any white fish, including: sole, flounder, cod, haddock, pompano and grouper.

Tilapia ranks as the second most cultivated fish in the world, after carp. And its popularity is causing its production to increase. The US is the largest importer of Fresh Farm Raised Tilapia Fillets from this hemisphere.

    Tilapia is also the fifth most popular seafood in the US with a per capita consumption in 2007 of 1.14 lbs. Consumers widely agree that fresh Tilapia fillets are an excellent addition to a healthy diet. Fresh Tilapia are low in fat, is a low calorie, low carb fish with great economic potential and a very good source of protein.

  Unlike salmon. tilapia eat a vegetable or cereal-based diet and it appears that the stock feed we produce locally for chicken, especially rice brand would make an excellent base for their diet if grown commercially here.

    Why is all of this important? well my investigation into this fish is prompted by the peculiar layout of our sugar cane fields especially for example those which have been abandoned at Diamond recently. I am saying that as the manual labour available for cutting cane declines, growing tilapia is a very real alternative for this country and we have the natural resources to do it cheaply since the fields left to us complements of our ancestors are laid out as perfect 10 acre fish ponds and we have enough water to be a world class tilapia producer.

    Our sugar cane fields can be flooded some of the front lands do not even need a pump you simply cut the water in from the navigation canals which floats the punts and it floods the fields, from time immemorial we have flooded them for irrigation, to kill soil borne insects after every crop and we also had a policy to flood fallow our cane fields for 6 months since it improves the natural structure and nutrient value of our soils. For centuries this has been the practice, these cane fields cannot be converted cheaply to flat lands to accommodate mechanical harvesting and the reason is obvious, this is a drain in a cane field [show video] and this bed is called a cambered bed [show bed] with large drains every 36 feet show drain, converting this field for mechanical harvesting as our cane cutting workforce dwindles is uneconomical, we may as well start fresh with lands away from the coast which are flat and where the cane harvesters and other mechanical field operations can be conducted with more ease especially when it rains in less muddy and wet lands away from the coast.     

    Commercially grown tilapia are almost exclusively male. Being prolific breeders, female tilapia in the ponds/tanks will result in large populations of small fish of various ages when it is time to harvest. At first separating all male fingerlings from the baby tilapia was difficult to achieve but recent developments over last 20 years have allowed the use of certain chemicals which make all the fingerlings male and in the past two decades hormonal sex reversal was introduced to produce all males so it has now become very commercially economical to have the ponds stocked with males only.

    So here is the alternative we have been looking for and frankly Mr. Ravi Dev had asked this question nearly seven years ago what do we do with these cane fields and my answer then as it is now is that this aquiculture was our future we have too many of the natural resources not to have begun to investigate it before now and I think that it is a sad commentary on the competence of this government.

    As far as the economics of growing Talapia are concerned here is what I have found so far, in a USAID funded study in Kenya done by the university of Arkansas between 2000 and 2005 the following were the financial results during this 5 year study of several tilapia farms in Kenya, the total expenditure per hectare, and this is everything, cost of the fingerlings, fertilizer, depreciation, interest at a rate of 12% for capital items and to run the business operation was around $8903 US dollars per Hectare and returned a total revenue of live tilapia i.e no processing of 11,568 US dollars i.e. about a 24% return on investment this is the cost of growing the fish and selling it live to fish processors. So this can be very profitable business and we have the natural resources to do it right here in Guyana. And these geniuses which we have in charge of GuySuCo and the ministry of agriculture today do not have one legitimate large scale 100 hectares trial in partnership with anyone, the Japanese, the Ecuadorians or the Brazilians to find out how economical it could be here and what the returns would be.  GuySuCo persists in growing an uneconomical crop in the face of a declining workforce to the stage where they are forced to abandon and sell the land to their close supporters and friends who have gained handsomely from the PPP being in power with the intention to level these lands for housing i.e. to destroy what would be for this exercise a national and irreplaceable asset to sell off as housing lands for 5 million G dollars per acre i.e. 25,000 US$ per acre, if the Kenya study is legitimate, and there is no reason to believe otherwise the return from these aquiculture operations would be very lucrative and create jobs for those who have become weary of doing the arduous work of cutting cane the labour is much less intensive, around 3-4 workers per hectare half of which will be security workers. As far as processing is concerned we have several very large fish processors here in Guyana filleting and exporting fish to the US and they have maintained the standards necessary for their product to meet the standards set for entry into the  United States by the US Department of Agriculture, so that is not an area where I see any problem. In fact if the grower can process his own tilapia for export to the US the profits become much higher.