by Carlos Adeler
Ecuadorian shrimp producers are considering turning their shrimp ponds, today inactive due to the white spot virus, to tilapia farming. With the present infrastructure, and providing considerable investments in technology are made, Ecuador could produce fresh tilapia for the US market. The incorporation of good technology is vital, if the Ecuadorian product is to compete against the product from Taiwan or Costa Rica. Presently, the major tilapia exporters are Taiwan, Costa Rica, Indonesia and Ecuador. About 92% of the tilapia imported by the US is frozen (whole fish and fillets), and comes from Taiwan. Ecuador would not be able to compete with Taiwans prices, but it could take part in the fresh tilapia market, competing with Costa Rica. Ecuador is among the worlds largest producers of fresh tilapia, with Costa Rica, Honduras and Jamaica. However, the fact that these countries have cheaper transport costs and more regular aerial freight services represents a disadvantage for Ecuador. Usually, the water of inactive shrimp ponds has a salinity of 15ppm (parts per million). Although tilapia is a fresh water fish, Ecuadorian red tilapia is a hybrid that can live both in fresh and salt water. However, the fish suffers from stress when the salinity of the water exceeds 15ppm, and above 20ppm, its culture is a complete failure. It is estimated that an investment of about US$7,500 per hectare of water is required to turn a shrimp pond into a tilapia pond. Additionally, it is necessary to set up a laboratory that can ensure a constant supply of fingerlings and fresh water, with a minimum investment of US$250,000 to US$500,000, and a working capital of US$5,500 per hectare of water is also required. Tilapia needs between ten and 11 months to reach a commercial size from the moment the fingerlings - weighing approximately 0.5g - are received until the moment when the fish reaches an average weight of 840g. In addition, producers often have to wait for a further 40-50 days, after production is delivered in consignment, to be paid. Tilapia is still affected by bacteria and parasites which bring on considerable damages, although they can be controlled with medicines. It is estimated that about three or five years will be necessary to develop a proper genetic species.
Source: Fish Info Service, <fis.com/fis/hotnews/>, 4 May 2000. Reprinted with permission.