Sunday, 5 February 2017

App Created To Double Tanzania Fish Output, Save Biodiversity

The scene at a Tilapia market in Tanzania
By Ray Mwareya

Tanzania is known worldwide for its serene safaris and roving wildlife game, but British scientists are developing an App that could save Tanzania´s critical Tilapia cichlid fish species. This could spur the country to double its fish output by 2025.

George Turner, professor at the School of Biological Sciences, Bangor University, Britain, the innovator, says of Tanzania´s Tilapia fish stock: “I have been studying cichlid fishes for over 30 years. Their incredible speciation is worth protecting. With the Earlham Institute we are developing a phone app to help fish farmers check the authenticity of any fingerlings. It could help identify regions particularly rich in pure species, where conservation measures could be put in place.”

He says, “The App could also flag up regions with a high number of hybrids that pose a biosecurity risk.” 

Tilapia, second only to carp as the world’s most frequently farmed fish, live in huge numbers in the Great Lakes (Victoria, Tanganyika, Malawi/Nyasa) that cover six percent of the country. 

The lakes are considered a global biodiversity hotspot – one of only 25 worldwide.

However, Tanzanians eat on average only 8kg of fish per year, less than half the international average of 17kg.

Around a third of children in Tanzania under five are deficient in iron and vitamin A, contributing to stunting.

Fish provide more efficient nutrients than other sources of animal protein in Tanzania.

Tilapia is attractive because they can be reared on inexpensive vegetable matter and agricultural waste.

Tilapia farming in Tanzania is mostly for subsistence or for small-scale markets. Around half of the world’s tilapia species are native to Tanzania.

To develop an aquaculture strategy for Tanzania, 30 scientists representing Tanzanian stakeholders as well as international research organisations met for a three-day workshop on Tanzania´s holiday island of Zanzibar.

 The main outcome of this workshop was a new consortium between the partners, committed to establishing the country´s National Aquaculture Development Centre (NADC).

The NADC could help triple the contribution that aquaculture makes to the economy, double the production of fish in the country by 2025 and improve access to fish as a protein source - especially for women.

Tilapia species from a broad range of ecosystems - including lakes, river systems, reservoirs and fish ponds across the country - will form the focus of the research. 

Genetic analysis of 31 species, including 26 that are found nowhere else on the planet, could reveal important traits for creating the country’s own commercial bloodstock.  

Using native species could also help secure the Tanzania´s biodiversity. For example, it eliminates the risk of non-native strains escaping and hybridising with wild species.

Charles Mahika, Tanzania´s Director of the Aquaculture, Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries (MALF), says: “We have a chance to increase our country’s share in aquaculture’s blue revolution, an industry growing faster than any other food-production sector in the world. We aim to triple the contribution of aquaculture to GDP from 1.4% to 4.2% by 2025.” 

Federica Di Palma, Director of Science, Earlham Institute (EI), says: “By sharing the results of genetic analysis and helping to build expertise, we can make a real contribution to helping to grow a national industry."

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