Tilapia is both a genus of fishes in the Cichlidae family and the common name for nearly a hundred species of freshwater and some brackish water cichlid fishes belonging to the three genera Tilapia, Sarotherodon, and Oreochromis. Most important and abundant in production, capture and aquaculture, is the Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus); followed by the Blue tilapia (Oreochromis aureus); Mango tilapia (Sarotherodon galilaeus) and Sabaki tilapia (Oreochromis spilurus). These are native to Africa and the Middle East. Blue and Mango tilapias are captured although in limited quantities while Sabaki tilapia is only cultured.
Tilapia is often called “St. Peter’s fish” because according to the Book of Mathew (17:27) the fish which St. Peter caught was a tilapia. Also, the miracle of Jesus Christ in which it says a crowd of five thousand people were fully fed with five loafs of bread and two fishes (Mathew 14:15-21) may have also been a tilapia since this is the species most found in Lake Tiberius (Sea of Galilee) in historical Palestine. It is also called as Nile Mouth brooder, or Nile perch. In the twenty-first century tilapia is dubbed as “wonder fish”.
Tilapia Cichlids inhabit the fresh and brackish waters of much of Africa, the Middle East, and coastal India, Central and South America. True tilapias, however, are native only to Africa and the Middle East. Tilapias are fascinating fish that are surrounded by fascinating facts. They have played an important role in the past and continue to play an important role these days in increasing food supply at affordable prices. Originally, the majority of tilapias fisheries were in Africa, but accidental and deliberate introduction of tilapias into freshwater lakes in Asia have led to outdoor aquaculture projects in several countries.
In general, tilapias traditional products, mostly fresh or chilled whole (round) fish and in fillets have become important commodities not only in the major producing countries in the region but also in the international seafood trade. Tilapia is becoming a common item on American fish markets, fish shops and restaurants’ menus. It has also been to a greater extent domesticated faster and than any other group of fish. Its worldwide production has increased significantly in the 1990s and mid 2000s reaching over 2 million tonnes in 2005 to 3.6 million tonnes in 2008. Furthermore, consumer demand for tilapias has been increasing at a faster rate than many other species. The flexibility and convenience in farming this species as well as the problems of over fishing and depletion in major stocks in capture fisheries has made this increase in production from aquaculture and consumption of tilapias possible.
2. Tracing tilapia in history
Tilapia have historically been of major importance in artisanal fishing (small scale commercial or subsistence fishing) in Africa and the Middle East, and are of increasing importance in aquaculture and commercial fishing around the world. Indeed, adaptations that have benefited the survival and reproduction of tilapia include: fast growing, large size, and a noted ability to become sexually mature at a young age and small size - combined with a desirable taste, also have led tilapia to become one of the most important fish in aquaculture. However, where tilapias have been deliberately or accidentally introduced, they have frequently become problematic invasive species.
To trace the history and development of tilapia in the MENA region the skeletal remains of fish are the main source of information during Egypt’s prehistoric period and attest to the importance of fish as a means of substance. The analysis of these remains along with the limited number of fishing implements that have been preserved aid in the reconstruction of Egypt’s early fishing industry and eating habits. Archaeological investigations of Egypt’s prehistoric economy has demonstrated that prehistoric Egyptians were well acquainted with their environment and made good use of the indigenous animals of the Nile Valley and desert for subsistence, as well as for raw material in the construction of tools.
3. Tilapia landings
World landings: According to the latest FAO fisheries statistics, the world total landings of tilapias from all sources have shown a steady increase over the period from 2004 to 2008. In 2004 production experienced a fluctuating trend. In 2004 captured tilapias were 756,530 tonnes dropping slightly in 2005 and 2006 rising again in 2007 but dropped to 755,362 tonnes in 2008. In contrast, landings from aquaculture indicated a continuous increase from year to year over the same period. In 2004 landings were almost 1.8 million tonnes reaching about 3.6 million tonnes in 2008 (Table 1).
MENA Landings: Total MENA Region tilapias production from fresh and brackish water fisheries showed a steady rise during the period 2004 – 2008 with landings of 378,394 tonnes in 2004 to 518,241 tonnes in 2008. The main increase from year to year is concentrated by Nile tilapia production in Egypt which accounts for over 92 % of total tilapia production in the region. According to the latest FAO Fisheries Statistics Egypt produced 477,458 tonnes in 2008 of Nile tilapia. Sudan main production is also Nile tilapia producing 24,290 tonnes which constitutes 4.7 % of total production in the region. The balance of the total production of 16,598 tonnes (3.2%) is produced mostly by Israel, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Jordan which their production includes beside Nile tilapia, Blue, Mango and Sabaki tilapias. Other MENA countries such as Algeria, Kuwait, Lebanon; Libya; Morocco, Oman, Qatar, and Tunisia have recently introduced tilapia to their aquaculture programmes and their production started to appear in FAO fisheries statistics (Table 2). Other countries in the region such as Iran, Turkey and Palestine (West Bank and Gaza) have recently taken some steps to introduce tilapias in their aquaculture programmes.
MENA landings by country: In comparison with the world tilapia production the MENA region during the years 2004 to 2008 tilapias landings experienced an almost continuous rise. In 2004 the total tilapia landings from all sources reached 378,394 tonnes rising after a slight drop in 2005 to reach 518,241 tonnes in 2008. MENA region tilapia landings represented 14.6 percent of total world tilapia landings (Table 1).
|Table 1: Total World and Middle East-North Africa (MENA) Tilapias Production: All Sources - 2004 – 2008 (Tonnes)
|Source: FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Information Statistics Service: 2010
Egypt is by far the main tilapia producer from fresh and brackish waters of capture fisheries as well as from aquaculture in the MENA region. It produced 477,458 tonnes in 2008 of Nile tilapia, or 92.2 percent of all tilapia production in the region. Sudan is tailing second in tilapia production in the region producing 24,290 tonnes (4.7 percent). The balance of 3.1 percent is landed by Israel, Syria, Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region (Table 2).
|Table 2: Total Tilapias Production in MENA Countries: All Sources 2004-2008 (Tonnes)
|F=FAO Estimate; 0=Less than half of unit.
Source: FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Information Statistics Service: 2010.
4. Tilapia markets in MENA Region
It could be said with certainty that all tilapias produced by capture and from aquaculture are consumed in the countries where these are produced. The size of the tilapias markets of the MENA region are therefore limited to the quantities that are produced in each of the countries concerned and in some of the countries where tilapia is imported to supplement local supplies...considering the major tilapia producing countries tilapia is the most marketed fish.
However, the size of the MENA market may be measured with the per capita consumption by the populations in each of the countries of the region. Considering the whole region the average per capita fish consumption varies widely from 1.6 kg in one country to almost 30.0 kg per capita in other. As far as tilapia consumption is concerned, it is unfortunately not possible to single out tilapia consumption as a separate commodity in the per capita calculations as no such data is collected in the national statistics or in the general food consumption studies. However, the apparent fish consumption in the tilapia producing countries in the region would give an indication as to the importance of the fish consumption in general and tilapia in particular. In Table 2 above the overall average per capita consumption for years 2003 - 2005 is 11.3 kg /annum which is below the international average of about 16 kg/annum. Only in two countries, Oman and Israel, where the average per capita is over the international average but most of Israel’s total fish supply is imported and its population is rather small. Likewise in Lebanon where there is a small population but has high quantities of imports to boost its fish supplies. On the other hand, Egypt which has the largest population, is by far the main producer of fish in the region has a per capita fish consumption of 15.7 kg/annum which is just about the international average.
|Tilapias at market.
5. Farming systems in use
As most of the MENA region is within the temperate and sub-tropical climate areas, tilapias are farmed within an array of different culture systems (earthen ponds, cages, concrete tanks, and raceways) and are produced using a great number of different management strategies (extensive, semi-intensive, intensive, monosex, culture mixed sex culture, monoculture, polyculture, and integrated with agriculture or animal husbandry).
In the MENA region, especially in Egypt being the most economically viable system and where it is warm year round and available water quantities, the earthen pond is the most culture system in use. This system is the most versatile system for intensive and semi-intensive tilapias production. Cage culture is also widely used especially in the Nile Delta region where semi-intensive and intensive farming is practiced.
Tanks and raceways are used in several MENA countries to culture tilapias such as in Jordan and Lebanon with an intensive management strategy and are used as an alternative to earthen ponds or cages especially when water or land is not available in sufficient quantities. Farmers using this system invest large sums of money on infrastructure building and maintenance and they maintain an adequate water temperature through water circulation. These systems encourage countries in temperate areas in the MENA region which cannot grow tilapias naturally to culture tilapias. These systems help farmers to better control and manage their stocks and have a better use of quality control parameters.
Tilapia production may be separated into two phases; production of fingerlings, and grow-out of fingerlings to marketable size. At tilapia hatcheries, brood fish are spawned, eggs are hatched, and fry reared to fingerling size for stocking in culture units. Tilapias will reproduce at an early age in culture systems. Reproduction in culture systems results in overcrowding and a preponderance of small, unmarketable fish at harvest. The production of fingerlings of a single sex is an important method for controlling reproduction during culture. There are several ways of obtaining single sex fingerlings, but for commercial culture, methyl-testosterone treatment to cause sex reversal or reliance on YY male brood stock are commonly used to produce all-male fingerlings.
Grow-out is done in ponds, cages and net pens, raceways, and water re-circulating systems. Ponds may be fertilized with manure, wastewater, and commercial fertilizer to allow production up to 2,000 to 3,000 kg/ha per crop. Much higher production, up to 20,000 kg/ha, can be achieved through application of commercial fertilizer and feed and the use of mechanical aeration. Water exchange is often applied in intensively managed ponds and raceways to improve water quality. Feed usually is offered to fish in all types of production units. Inputs of fertilizer and feed to culture systems result in pollution load in effluents.
Cage culture also is a common production method, and in some countries, this method is used more widely than ponds. Cage design ranges from simple ones of 1 or 2 m³ volume made on site from netting to large manufactured cages similar to the ones used in salmon culture. Cages may be located in ponds, reservoirs, lakes, streams, irrigation systems, or estuaries. In some countries, regulations have been imposed on the location and number of cages in public waters, but these regulations may not be obeyed. Net pens are used to a lesser extent than cages.
Raceways, also referred to as flow-through production systems, are grow-out units through which water flows continuously. Raceways often are elongated concrete troughs 2- to 4-m wide and 10- to 50-m long. They also may be elongated earthen ponds or plastic troughs or tanks. The rate of water flow through raceways also varies greatly, and the normal range in exchange rate probably is about 0.5 to 4 exchanges/hour.
Water re-use systems are employed in countries where water is scarce or in temperate climates where heated water must be used to permit year-around production. Of course, in temperate countries, brood stock can be maintained during cold months in heated systems and production done during warm months in ponds, cages, or other units.
In general, aquaculture production in the MENA region is characterized by wide diversity, not only in regard to the culture systems used, but also in respect of the development trends of the fishing industry in general and related issues concerned. The fish farming systems of fish production in the various countries may be classified as extensive, semi intensive and intensive. However it should be noted that the extensive or semi-intensive systems have been modified in practice and application in time and location in one country or another. However, since Egypt leads the region in tilapias production, the systems used in this country are summarized below.
6. Tilapia and fish consumption per capita:
Consumption of seafood in general and tilapia in particular especially where tilapias consumption has a historical and traditional base is expected to grow especially due to its lower consumer price compared to other species on the market. Locally produced cultured fish when fresh is considered to be of inferior quality by middle and upper class consumers, but there is no problem in marketing it if the price is right. While preference in the region is for fresh whole fish, imported frozen fish products in general while not fully appreciated by most consumers, it is nevertheless widely accepted due to the modern marketing outlets which assures good storage and preservation. The increasing awareness in recent years of health benefits by including more fish in the diets has also increased the consumption of tilapias. Fish consumers especially those living close to inland water fish resources due to price preference and availability are more inclined to increase their consumption of tilapias than most other seafood species.
Furthermore, due to the increase in aquaculture production in the major producing countries like Egypt and the Sudan coupled with the changing mode of fish marketing channels, such as modern supermarkets, consumers are demanding beside fresh whole (round) tilapias value added products mostly tilapia fillets in fresh or frozen form packed in consumer’s packs of 1 kg or 2 kg displayed on ice and/or in refrigerated display cabinets. Furthermore, in the countries of the region where tilapia farming has been introduced in the last few years are increasing their investments in farming tilapias due to the increase in the populations of immigrant workers who come from countries where tilapia consumption is common not only from the MENA region but also from Asian countries such as China, the Philippines, Thailand and India.
There are seven other countries in the MENA region were fresh water exist but their fisheries do not yet contain any of the tilapias species nor does their aquaculture rear such species. However, on occasions tilapia farming is mentioned as planned for future projects especially that the potential for farming tilapia exists. These countries are: Bahrain, Iraq, Iran, Palestine, Turkey, U.A.E. and Yemen.
|Tilapias at Seafood Restaurant.
7. Future prospects for tilapia production
The challenges for tilapias production in the MENA Region will depend very much on the future demand for fish in general and the sustainability of aquaculture in particular. The major issues which are the most challenging range from the sustainable utilization of the resources, the most prominent of which are fry, land and water resources, to supporting markets and distribution systems, the adoption of sustainable production technologies and institutional constraints.
The aquaculture sector in the MENA Region, although mostly still in its initial stages, is rapidly expanding, not only in the countries which are already traditionally advanced in the field but also in the countries that have introduced aquaculture in recent years such as the Arabian Gulf states and in North Africa. It is believed that aquaculture expansion is crucial for the protection and preservation of the marine aquatic environment and its natural resources in the region that any expansion of the sector takes place in a sustainable manner. Strengthening the aquaculture sector in a sustainable manner increases the sector’s contribution to the economies of the MENA countries, enhances food security and creates employment opportunities.
Nile tilapia is currently the main cultured species. In order to increase tilapias production, there are various issues on the technical, economic, legislative and institutional levels that pose as challenges that need to be met to insure proper, safe and sustainable supply of fish from capture and from culture fisheries.
8. Outlook for growth of tilapia markets
All North African countries are now introducing tilapia in their aquaculture programmes. Tilapias farming have great potential in North Africa. Authorities may find it suitable to permit imports of some of the fast-growing species. Also Iran with its available fresh water resources, which so far did not introduce tilapia farming, may decide to allow farming what it calls “exotic” species. It is to be noted however, that the Gulf States that currently culture tilapia will continue to face difficulties in expanding their aquaculture projects due to limited water resources. Likewise in Palestine and Israel fresh water shortages will continue to be a limiting factor in large scale tilapia farming.
Increasing investments in culturing tilapia is a worldwide trend. The favourable characteristics of farming tilapia, its affordable prices to the general public as well as the availability of suitable areas are major drives for investors worldwide. Expanding aquaculture into desert areas where underground water may be utilized could give Egypt, for example, the chance to assert its leadership in the region in the production of tilapia in order to first satisfy the high local demand as well as turn to the lucrative and demanding markets of the Arab Gulf States as well as Europe.
Traditional fish markets are the main channel for consumers to purchase tilapia. These days it is normal in major cities in the MENA countries to find
fish sections in modern supermarkets displaying a variety of fresh sea food including tilapia. International chains of supermarkets beside traditional fish markets and neighbourhood fish shops are becoming a major venue for shopping for fresh or frozen fish by the general public. These supermarkets also offer more sophisticated imported or locally produced value-added seafood products such as individually vacuum packed, breaded, boneless, marinated, frozen, all natural tilapias fillets in consumer packs of various sizes and other innovative tilapia based preparations.
Another potential for growth of tilapia production in the region is the possibility of including tilapia exports in international trade in fish and fishery products from the region. The American market for tilapias is the number one international market for the species and the European market is also developing well. The increase in tilapias production will give strong advantage to export tilapias to European markets which could have a distinct advantage in prices and time for deliveries over supplies to Europe from Latin American produces. For example, Egypt could develop European standard tilapia products for export to these markets in addition to its current export of Sea bass and Sea bream. Likewise tilapia exports to the importing Gulf States are also an option considering the proximity of the markets.
MENA countries with growth potential in their tilapia production like Egypt and the Sudan may also indulge in the common tilapia products which are traded internationally beside fresh, chilled and frozen whole (round) fish and fish fillets. There is an internationally growing market for high value convenience products such as skin-on, skin-off, deep-skinned, ozone-dipped, CO-treated, IQF, smoked, and sashimi grade tilapia products in various types of packaging. Also the “preserved tilapia” which means mainly value-added products that breaded fillets and marinated/spiced fillets. Furthermore, for weight watchers the newly being developed low-fat lime encrusted tilapia loin in which the fish fillets are injected with a concentrated, all natural fish protein made from the fish bits left after filleting that would normally become waste.
There is also potential demand for organic tilapia, especially in the USA and Europe. Value addition in the tilapia industry is also going toward maximizing by-product utilization to produce surimi-based products, fish skin for producing leather, snacks and pharmaceutical products. Tilapia scales can also be used to make handicraft items.
The World Trade Organization (WTO) currently regulates 99 percent of international fish trade. Growth, therefore, is encouraged with the general liberalization of trade among members as specified in the WTO Agreements. While fish in international trade is classified as industrial goods which means importing countries will benefit from reduction in duties and also reductions on processed fish. The only remaining major barrier for fish trading countries is insuring the safety and quality of fish as demanded by the importing countries. Globalization of trade has allowed more trade flow between countries. However, there is a potential cost to this trade which is the decrease in governments’ abilities to regulate and cope with environmental management challenges and increased corporate power and reach as well as the safety and quality of products traded.
All indications point out that growth in production, consumption and trade in tilapias in the MENA region is a sign of things to come. The outlook for tilapia in the foreseeable future is that more tilapia culturing projects are expected to continue to increase. The aquaculture industry in the region is bound to grow and the number of projects for tilapia will surpass that of other species. This is particularly true for tilapias which are an indigenous species in some countries and are being introduced in several others. Local markets for tilapias are growing and demand for the fish is growing. This phenomenon is supported by the fact that more farming projects are being established in countries where it is traditionally a main stable such as in Egypt and the Sudan and the fact that many other countries in the region which introduced tilapia farming in recent years are also increasing their own production through farming. Other countries in which tilapias were never a locally consumed species are only now starting their projects to farm tilapia such as Algeria, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia.
The outlook for tilapias marketing is also bound to grow and expand. Tilapia has become an internationally significant traded fish commodity especially in western markets. Initially imports by the US and more recently by European markets were prompted by ethnic minorities which traditionally demand tilapia, but the surge in fillet imports suggest that new and diverse markets are developing. Tilapia is beginning to substitute for declining wild whitefish supplies in a wider market competing with other whitefish like flounder, sole and even cod. Nevertheless, the MENA tilapia producers who wish to expand their seafood trade with the US and the EU, as well as with the tilapia importing countries in the region, will need to apply strong promotional marketing approaches with innovative methods that appeal to the new markets.