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Selecting the best tilapia strain to maximize productivity

Evaluation of Nile Tilapia Strains for Aquaculture in the Philippines
Project leader
Raul Ponzoni
1 Oct 2011
30 Sep 2012
GIFT TilapiaThe Philippines derives substantial benefits from its aquatic and fisheries resources. The contribution to the country’s total fish production from aquaculture has consistently increased, outpacing growth in both the small-scale and commercial fishery sectors.
This project evaluates the relative growth performance of Nile tilapia strains that are currently cultured in the country and compares them with a GIFT strain that has been undergoing 13 generations of selection—five generations in the Philippines and 8 generations in Malaysia.

The Nile in the Philippines

Tilapia, principally Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus) is the second most important farmed aquaculture species in the Philippines, after milk fish. The Nile tilapia was imported into the Philippines in the early 1970s but after some initial success and popularity became inbred and yields declined. A ten year multi-national effort for genetic improvement led to the development of the hugely successful GIFT strain (Genetically Improved Farmed Tilapia).
Several different strains of Nile tilapia have now been developed within the Philippines and overseas. The Bureau of Freshwater and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) has developed the Genetically Enhanced Tilapia-Excellent strain (GET-EXEL), and the Freshwater Aquaculture Center of Central Luzon State University (FAC/CLSU) has bred the FaST strain. In Norway, a private company Genomar markets the fish under the name GenoMar Supreme Tilapia (GST). The agreement of GIFT Foundation with Genomar ceased in 2005 and efforts were made to obtain research fund to continue the selection program. In April 2010, a new collaborative research partnership was formed among three institutions:  BFAR-NFFTC, FAC/CLSU and Feedmix Specialist II. The GIFT strain was renamed to GIFT Feedmix Fortified (GIFTFF).
Today, though GIFT and GIFT- derived strains account for around 70% of total tilapia production in the Philippines, and the variety of strains offers farmers more variety to choose from, little analysis has been carried to compare the benefits of these strains.

Splash of the Titans

The ultimate aim of the current study is, therefore, to identify superior strains of Nile tilapia for aquaculture in the Philippines. To achieve this aim the project will develop an experimental protocol for performance evaluation and then conduct experiments to identify the superior strains. At least four strains will be assessed for this study: GIFT developed by the WorldFish Center from the nucleus in Malaysia, GET Excel of BFAR, FaST developed by CLSU, and GIFTFF developed by collaboration between BFAR-NFFTC, FAC/CLSU and Feedmix Specialist II.

Once high performing tilapia strains are identified, their distribution via hatcheries can increase fry availability and decrease the costs of seed stock. In this way, the superior genetics can be disseminated directly to fish farmers or indirectly through public and private hatcheries.
Breeding programmes will be implemented to further improve genetic performance of the identified strains. This will help to enhance the capacity of local personnel working in tilapia breeding and production hatcheries.
Although the ultimate target groups of this project are fish farmers and small householders, a wider range of beneficiaries are expected to be reached, including consumers generally, commercial producers and scientists. The partner institutions involved will gain experience and knowledge on the design of strain comparison experiments, and other aspects of modern quantitative genetics.
The project is expected to have positive social and economic impacts, improving the living standard of poor people, and contributing to gender equality via the creation of employment opportunities for women in rural areas where many are involved in seed, feed and post-harvest activities.