Our farmed tilapia production is declining

Nile tilapia, the most common tilapia species in the country. (Dr. Rafael D. Guerrero III)

By Dr. Rafael D. Guerrero III

The tilapia is the second most important farmed food fish in our country next to milkfish.

Although there are several species of tilapia which are farmed and caught in our inland waters, the Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus) is the most common species.

In 2019, we had a per capita consumption of 2.9 kilos of tilapia, according to the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR). Currently, the fish sells at a much lower price than farmed milkfish and the captured marine roundscad (galunggong) in local wet markets, and is now regarded as the “fish of the masses.”

The BFAR reported that we produced 281,114 metric tons (mt) of farmed tilapia in 2021. The production from freshwater ponds had the highest contribution of 61.32%, followed by freshwater cages (25.43%) and brackishwater ponds (7.54%). The top producing regions in the country are Regions III, IV-A and I while the top producing provinces are Pampanga, Batangas and Bulacan.

In an assessment of our farmed tilapia production from 2004 to 2020, there was an increase in production by 44.63% from 2004 to 2010 but only 2.65% from 2011 to 2020. Why the drastic drop in production?

The average annual production rate (AAPR) of farmed tilapia from 2007 to 2016 showed that the production from freshwater ponds had an AAPR of only 1.1%; that for freshwater cages was 1.3%; for freshwater pens it was 1.5%, and for brackishwater ponds, the AAPR was 4.8%. These indicated that there was limited production from freshwater ponds and from freshwater cages/pens in lakes while production was somewhat high for brackishwater ponds.

Of the country’s 14,000 hectares of freshwater ponds, only about 6,000 hectares are believed to be productive by the BFAR while of the 200,000 hectares of brackishwater ponds throughout the country, we only produced about 20,000 mt of salt-tolerant tilapias in 2021. The low increase in production from freshwater ponds is attributed to limited land and water resources. The capacity for accommodating more cages and pens for tilapia farming in our lakes and reservoirs has also been exceeded.

Another potential area for growth or expansion of our farmed tilapia production is from coastal marine waters. In 2021, there were 97.58 mt of tilapias produced from pens and cages in marine waters in some parts of the country. The BFAR has identified 50,150 hectares of suitable coastal waters for mariculture development throughout the country.

The major constraint in the expansion of tilapia production in brackishwater ponds and marine waters is the short supply of salt-tolerant tilapia fingerlings such as the BEST (brackishwater enhanced selected tilapia) and MOLOBICUS (hybrid of Nile tilapia and Mozambique tilapia) developed by the BFAR.

With the limited supply of fingerlings produced by the BFAR, there is a need to increase production through accredited private hatcheries for dissemination of more fingerlings to tilapia farmers.

In the case of tilapia farming in marine coastal waters, it is worth mentioning a private group which produces its own fingerlings of the salt-tolerant hybrid of red tilapia known as the “KingFish” for grow-out in commercial floating cages in the Panabo Mariculture Park in Davao del Norte.

Aside from the availability of fingerlings for farming in brackishwater ponds and coastal marine waters, there are also other issues such as the impacts of climate change (e.g., high water temperature), the high cost of feeds, the lack of government assistance in the form of technical services and extension, and the poor access to credit of tilapia farmers that need immediate attention and action.

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