Tilapia productivity nearly quadrupling in Dutch-backed RAS tilapia product trial in Vietnam

A pilot project using new recirculating aquaculture system (RAS) technology in southern Vietnam has brought about successful results, with the first phase seeing productivity of tilapia nearly quadrupling in trial ponds.

The Mekong Aquaculture Solutions (MARES) project supported by the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature, and Food Quality of the Netherlands is implemented by agriculture service firm Fresh Studio and Danish aquaculture engineering company Alpha Aqua in the Mekong Delta, the most important aquaculture region in Vietnam.

The first phase of the project using the prototype technology has been designed to raise local red tilapia. The productivity in the trial ponds was 16.92 metric tons (MT) per hectare per crop, 3.8 times higher than 4.5 MT per hectare per crop in ponds operated by local farmers using traditional practices (referred to as control ponds in the project), according to a recent report developed for the Dutch ministry sent to SeafoodSource by Fresh Studio Aquaculture and Fisheries Manager Alban Caratis.

The objectives of the MARES Phase 1 is to design, build and test an innovative technology concept focusing on improving water quality in ponds, which can be adopted by thousands of small and medium scale farmers of the Mekong Delta. The first step of the project is proving its efficacy and added value through applied research and demonstration technologies, the report said.

The concept technology used in the project consists of a water treatment “box” which floats in ponds and acts as a “third lung” for the pond, increasing carrying capacity and overall ecosystem stability.

Involved in the trial was three control ponds having been stocked at three fish per-square meter, and three treated ponds which were stocked at 15 fish per meter square, according to the report.

Average survival rate in the trial ponds was 82.4 percent, higher than 79.3 percent in the control ponds. Average feed conversion ratio (FCR) in treated ponds was 1.36, 8.2 percent lower than in the control ponds. 

As average production cost of the treated ponds was lower than in control ponds, the extra profit per kilogram of fish produced in the treated ponds was USD 0.19 (EUR 0.17) per kilogram.

“Despite a few minor design flaws, we are confident of the potential for applying the technology to commercial farms,” the report said.

Fresh Studio and Alpha Aqua said they expect farmers to break even in less than four years. Upgrades of the initial design could even help lower break-even point to two years. And with an investment of USD 3,500 (EUR 3,145) per 500 square meters of pond, local farmers would multiply their revenue by a factor of 50 over a 10-year period.    

The lessons learned from the “minimum viable product” (MVP) in the first phase will be applied to develop the “minimum marketable product” (MMP) piloted at commercial scale in the next stage.

The second phase of the project will see the participation of two groups of farmers in Mekong Delta. The first group will focus on integrating the MMP in a service delivery model for small scale intensive farmers. The second one will concentrate on integrating it for pangasius nurseries, which will grow high quality fry produced in an indoor and fully controlled hatchery system developed by Alpha Aqua and Fresh Studio.

The second phase is on-going in Mekong Delta with demo days at farms and practical knowledge transfer programs prepared to raise acceptance by local farmers, they said.

“In the long term, farmers enrolled in our model will be institutionalized in an independent producer group through which complete transparency from farm to fork, and sustainability benchmark will be provided to buyers and consumers,” the two firms said.

Photo courtesy of Alpha Aqua A/S


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