By Jason Holland, SeafoodSource contributing editor reporting from London
Published on 27 January, 2013
As a product, tilapia ticks many boxes. It is available in large volumes; it’s mild in flavor and easy to cook; it freezes and defrosts well; and it’s very affordable. From a production perspective, the fish is sustainably farmed using little, if any, marine feeds; and it’s a very fast growing and resilient species.
While these characteristics have undoubtedly contributed to tilapia earning the No. 4 spot on the National Fisheries Institute’s (NFI) top 10 list of the most consumed seafood species in the United States, across the pond the same fish has had nowhere near the same measure of success. The figures don’t lie — the EU imported 20,700 metric tons (MT) of tilapia products in 2011, while U.S. imports topped 192,000 MT and the gap is forecast to be much wider when the 2012 statistics are published.
There are two weighty reasons why tilapia hasn’t triumphed in Europe thus far. Firstly, it’s significantly more expensive than pangasius; and secondly, a lot of the tilapia that has found its way into the market in the last 10 years has been of poor quality, which has tarnished the fish’s reputation.
“Most of the product was from China and 90 percent of that fish is horrible. It looks horrible and it tastes horrible. That has done a lot of damage,” says Rudi Lamprecht, founder of tilapia producer Regal Springs, which operates farms in Central and South America.
“Also, the European market is about price, price and price. Pangasius has been extremely successful due to its price. And the nice pangasius is paper-white and very attractive looking.”
Swiss entrepreneur Lamprecht started Regal Springs in 1988 and today the group produces around 100,000 MT of live-weight equivalent tilapia per year. It exports about 1,200 MT of frozen and 750 MT of fresh tilapia to the United States each month, but ships just 250 MT to Europe.