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Seafood Expo North America – focus on traceability, sustainability, and quality certification

Attending Seafood Expo North America is a great way to learn about farmed and wild caught seafood sources and the latest trends in the industry. The show is held annually in Boston and this year’s show featured over 1200 exhibiting companies representing 46 countries. Seafood suppliers provide information about their products and many offer samples to help generate interest in their fish, shellfish, seaweed, or value-added products.

Seafood Expo North America
Seafood Expo North America

Traceability, quality, sustainability, and certification were words that were on display and the topic of several sessions of the conference program.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture provided information on its Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) supplier certification program.  “Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) is a labeling law that requires retailers, such as full-line grocery stores, supermarkets and club warehouse stores, to notify their customers with information regarding the source of certain foods.” (Source: USDA) The fish and shellfish regulations (7 CFR Part 60) in support of COOL went into effect in 2005.

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) was at the show promoting its seafood inspection program. NOAA provides a quality assurance program that helps establishments, such as fishing vessels, processing plants, and retail operations attain certification. Certification involves developing and implementing a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) plan.

To reduce seafood fraud, NOAA is working on a U.S. Seafood Traceability Program and on February 5 began soliciting input for the first phase of the program. A Traceability Leadership Forum in partnership with the Global Sustainability Summit is scheduled for August 10, 2016 in New Orleans.

Fresh tilapia fillets

To address quality and market demands, tilapia farmers are increasingly working on attaining certification. FishChoice provides a “one stop shopping” type of service to help businesses source and sell sustainable seafood. According to its website, “FishChoice.com’s unique sustainable seafood platform aggregates information from the leading sustainable seafood organizations into resources designed for businesses.”

Distinguishing Male from Female Tilapia

One of the challenges of rearing tilapia is being able to successfully distinguish male from female tilapia. This is important when setting up breed stock or enhancing production rates.

Tilapia grown in pond culture can have a problem with excess reproduction. This can lead to stunted growth and lower production rates.

To prevent this problem, farmers can use monosex culture by separating the males from females. Typically, males are preferred because they grow to a larger size and have greater profit potential.

Home growers can use tilapia behavior to help sex their tilapia. Put a small number of tilapia in an aquarium along with some gravel. The male will typically dig a nest and defend it. Females will tend to hide unless they are spawning. You can remove males that display nesting behavior one by one and move them to separate containers. When the remaining fish no longer show nesting behavior, then you can assume they are all females. You can add one of the males back into the aquarium and start a breeding colony.

Fins and genital papilla of the Nile Tilapia.
(Credit: Tilapia: Life History and Biology by Thomas Popma and Michael Masser)

Country Focus – Taiwan

Taiwan is located in the Asia-Pacific sub-tropic area and has a well developed aquaculture industry. Over one hundred species are farmed in Taiwan.

Tilapia is an important farmed fish in Taiwan and includes production of Mozambique tilapia (Oreochromis mossambicus), red hybrid tilapia (O. spp.) and Nile tilapia (O. niloticus). Tilapia now accounts for 20-25% of the aquaculture production in Taiwan.

Most of the tilapia produced in Taiwan is for export to markets in the European Union, Japan, Korea, and the United States. The majority of exported tilapia goes to the United States. In 2010, Taiwan produced over 74,000 tons of tilapia valued at $117 Million (USD).

Tilapia was first introduced into Taiwan by Wu Chen-hui and Kuo Chi-chang in 1946. These young men were interred in a prison of war camp in Singapore and reportedly smuggled some tilapia fingerlings into Taiwan. Some of the fingerlings survived and were the beginnings of the tilapia culturing tradition in Taiwan.

Taiwan Tilapia
Taiwan Tilapia

In Taiwan, tilapia is known as wu-kuo, which is combination of the names of the pioneers who introduced the fish into the country. The so called ‘Taiwan tilapia’ is an industry brand used to distinguish tilapia produced in Taiwan. The Taiwan tilapia is a hybrid of Oreochromis mossambicus and O. niloticus niloticus. Taiwan tilapia is produced to meet certification standards for fry, aquaculture management, marketing, and transportation.

Tilapia are grown in ponds with most production occurring in Tainan County, located in the south of Taiwan. Other areas that contribute to production include Chiayi, Yulin, Kaohsiung, and Pintung.

Seafood Watch has noted some quality issues with Taiwan tilapia. There are reports of use of illegal substances, such as malachite green and gentian violet for disease treatment. However, many Taiwanese tilapia farmers have shown a commitment to improving quality as evidenced by the growing number of farms that have received Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) certification.


Questions & Answers

Question: We are located in the state of Missouri and are looking into raising tilapia and selling them. We are wanting to sell babies and adult tilapia fish. Our question is does your company buy from independent growers?

Answer: The short answer to your question is yes. However if by “independent growers” you mean tilapia farmers that aren’t part of our cooperative, the answer is no. However, if you mean smaller, 2k to 10k pounds per year growers, the answer is yes, with the condition that you join the cooperative and adhere to its standards. I should also add that our company only buys through our cooperative, so even though our company may buy your tilapia, the transfer of funds and livestock will be administered by the co-op. Currently our cooperative is by invitation only, however it will be open to everyone in 2016. If you are interested, send an email to contact@aagrow.com for more information.

Question: Help!!! New to the topic, want to start fish farming and busy with basic planning. Vital question, from fingerling to harvest capacity how long does tilapia take?

Answer: Tilapia have a period of accelerated growth that begins at hatching and lasts for roughly 240 days, or 34 weeks. After this period, the growth rate flattens out for the remainder of the tilapia’s life, eventually gaining only a few ounces per year. This is important to the tilapia farmer because during this period, the feed to growth ratio is optimal.  In other words, during the first 240 days, a pound of food yields a pound of fish. After this period, the farmer will rapidly get less weight gain for every pound of feed given. To answer your question with a number, it takes 240 days, or 34 weeks for food grade tilapia to reach a 16 to 20 ounce harvest size. Food grade tilapia are simply those tilapia that exhibit the fastest rates of growth.

It’s important to remember that a big chunk of that 240 days is spent in the hatchery, not in the grow-out. Hatcheries like Lakeway Tilapia offer commercial farmers services such as holding fingerlings until they are 30 grams each. By doing this, the amount of time that the tilapia farmer has until harvest is reduced to less than six months, or two harvests per year from the same pond.

Question: I would like to ask a question regarding using products for algae and ammonia control in tanks. Is it harmful to use such products in tank maintenance for livestock tilapia fish for human consumption?

Answer:  For ammonia control in Aquaculture tanks, I recommend using Zeolite or a gas transfer membrane to remove the dissolved ammonia gas. For Zeolite, simply pass the water form your system through the clay mineral. When the ammonia starts to rise again, simply soak the zeolite in a 5% salt solution for 24 hours to recharge. Gas transfer membranes, such as those found on liquicel.com are designed for more industrial sized applications. As far as algae control is concerned, the tilapia themselves are the algae control. Tilapia should have no problem eating algae blooms of any size. Never use herbicides to control algae in aquaculture water.

Thanks to Mark Kehrli of Lakeway Tilapia for supplying the answers.

Lakeway TilapiaMark Kehrli
Lakeway Tilapia
Tel: 865-262-8289


Aquaculture, Aquaponics & Tilapia Training

A list of some training courses:

Asian Institute of Technology (AIT), Thailand

University of St Andrews, Scotland – Online Course, Sustainable Aquaculture

Aquaculture Innovation, South Africa
4-day Aquaculture System Management Course, 19 to 22 April 2016
9-day Practical Fish Farmer Course, 15 to 23 February 2016
2-day Commercial Aquaponics Course, 4 & 5 March 2016

Nelson-Pade, Montello, Wisconsin, USA
Aquaponics Master Class, Montello, WI
March 17-19, 2016, June 9-11, Aug 4-6, Sept 15-17, Nov 10-12