Tilapia partnership takes shape in Canary Islands


Chris Dove, SeafoodSource.com contributing editor, reporting from Malaga, Spain

Published on
November 29, 2011

An intriguing commercial relationship has developed between Belgium and La Palma, one of the smallest Canary Islands located off the northwest coast of Africa.

La Palma’s cultivation of freshwater fish, particularly tilapia, has sparked interest among Belgian and other foreign investors following extensive scientific and agricultural research carried out by and exported from La Palma’s Roque de Los Muchachos Observatory.

César Martín, the island’s Minister of Agriculture, confirmed a collaboration protocol with a Belgian university, saying: “It was the university that came to the island interested in what we have done in investigating tilapia with further research on other commercial freshwater varieties.”

Technicians from La Palma Society for Promotion y Economic Development conducted a full investigation into tilapia, including cultivation and growth in fresh water using empty ponds in Aridane Valley, as well as fattening, filleting and marketing techniques.

Martín expressed confidence that with this production method “we could compete with panga and perch which are on the market, as filleted fish are very important for an economic menu in Canaries’ consumption.”?Martín argued that much of the research and development that can be promoted in La Palma is incorporated within the same primary sector of “freshwater aquaculture, traditional varieties or medicinal plants.”

Outside Europe, Israel is at the center of two Canary Islands tilapia-growing projects using intensive closed systems, while nations the Philippines, Thailand, Taiwan, Indonesia, Brazil, Ecuador, Mexico, the United States and some African countries continue introducing and developing new farmed tilapia species.

Due to their prolific breeding rate, commercially grown tilapia are almost exclusively male. Cultivators reverse the sex of newly spawned females to stop rapidly increasing populations of small fish, enabling a stable population of harvest-size males.

Though not mentioned in César Martín’s statement, it’s widely believed the Belgian university involved is the Katholieke University Leuven. While La Palma’s Roque de Los Muchachos Observatory is undergoing other joint projects with Katho, Aquaponics UK has been advising Katho researchers on setting up a small-scale tilapia-growing system.

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