By Rafael D. Guerrero III

The introduced tilapia is the second most important farmed or cultured fish in the country next to our native milkfish. In 2016, we produced 300,720 metric tons (MT) of tilapia (mainly the Nile tilapia) from farms (86%) and fishing from inland waters (14%) with a value of R24 billion. Our production of farmed tilapia in 2015 was 260,966 MT with 54% coming from freshwater ponds, 30% from freshwater cages, 8% from freshwater pens and 7% from brackishwater ponds. Most of the farmed tilapia production was from Luzon (92%), with Mindanao and the Visayas contributing only 6% and 2%, respectively.

What could explain the low yields of our tilapia farms and what measures/actions can be made to put back our farmer tilapia production on the upswing?

In the NAST-DOST study, 55 tilapia farmers from Luzon (69%) and Mindanao (31%) were interviewed through focus group discussions and key informants. Of the 55 respondents, 38 or 72% said that their tilapia production decreased by 52.4% on the average in the last five years. Socioeconomic, technological, institutional, and climatic factors that could cause the decline in farmed tilapia production were presented in a structured questionnaire. The major factors identified by the farmers were “High Water Temperature” (68%), “Lack of Government Assistance” (58%), “Poor Breed of Tilapia” (48%) “High Cost of Production” (46%), and “Lack of Capital” (44%).

From the AAPRs of the various tilapia culture systems, the study concluded that brackishwater ponds had the highest potential for further increasing tilapia production (with salt-tolerant hybrids) considering that there are more than 230,000 hectares of such ponds in the country that are not fully utilized for milkfish and shrimp culture. It was also suggested that the cage culture of saline-tolerant tilapias like the red tilapia in the Panabo City Mariculture Park (430 hectares) in Davao del Sur be expanded in the other mariculture parks with an identified aggregate area of 15,593 hectares throughout the country. With the limited expansion of freshwater ponds in Luzon, Mindanao is seen as the future growth area with the lack of fish particularly in its inland provinces and abundance of water resources. Since the carrying capacities of the lakes and other inland waters where pen and cage culture of tilapia are done have already been exceeded, no further growth can be expected.

For addressing the problems/constraints identified by the tilapia farmers, the following measures/actions were recommended by the study:

(1) “High Water Temperature” – The shading of ponds with silver straw net and aquatic plants can help reduce sunlight penetration and lower water temperature especially during the “hot months” (March-April). Using the net with 40% shading, the fry production of Nile tilapia in freshwater breeding ponds increased by 77% compared to that in the non-shaded pond while the growth of the black-chin tilapia was better compared to that of the control in the freshwater pond with 24% shading provided by the floating water lettuce..

(2) “Lack of Government Assistance” – Extension and technical services are direly needed by the tilapia farmers. The extension workers of local government units (tasked by law to deliver such services) should be well-trained and adequately supported.

(3) “Poor Breed of Tilapia” – There is a lack of government-accredited tilapia hatcheries in the country for the production of “quality fry and fingerlings” for dissemination to farmers. More tilapia hatcheries should be put up especially in Mindanao with government support.

(4) “High Cost of Production” – The cost of commercial feeds used for intensive culture of tilapia in ponds and cages constitutes 60-80% of the total cost of production. The substitution of imported feed ingredients like soybean meal with locally available copra meal can reduce the cost of feeding. The use of floating extruded feed pellets for cage culture of tilapia in Taal Lake reduced the amount of feeding by 20-30% and lessened feed cost by 18-29% compared to using slow sinking pellets.

(5) “Lack of Capital” – Soft or interest-free loans should be provided to tilapia farmers particularly for expansion in areas with high growth potential production in brackishwater ponds, mariculture parks, and freshwater ponds in Mindanao, and establishment of accredited hatcheries.

This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s January 2019 issue.