Rwanda bans tilapia fingerling imports out of fears of tilapia lake virus

Published on
March 5, 2020

Fear over a possible outbreak and spread of the tilapia lake virus in Rwanda has forced the country's Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources to impose a ban on the importation of fingerlings, in addition to urging fishers and aquaculture farmers to embrace good management practices in their operations.

Agriculture and Animal Resources Minister Gerardine Mukeshimana urged fish farmers to embrace preventive measures including good aquaculture biosecurity practices and better fish pond management to avert an outbreak of the tilapia lake virus, which has an estimated mortality rate between at least 10 percent and as much as 90 percent.

According to the FAO, the virus causes "lethargy, ocular alterations, skin erosions, exophthalmia, abdominal distension, scale protrusion and skin discoloration (darkening) followed by high mortalities" on infected fish.

Tilapia lake virus, which has been listed as having an orthomyxo-like (flu-like) RNA that affects both wild and farmed tilapia,  aposes a threat to food security and nutrition in many countries because of high mortality attributed to the disease.

The ban on the import of tilapia fingerlings by Rwanda, which produces an average of nearly 27,000 metric tons (MT) of fish, comes at a time when the landlocked country is relying heavily on imports from Uganda and Tanzania – where the tilapia lake virus has been previously reported.

Earlier, Uganda, which produces an average of 59,000 MT of tilapia, launched the country’s National Action Plan on the virus to avert further spread both within the country and to the wider region of Eastern Africa.

The plan – which is being implemented by the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry, and Fisheries, in partnership with research institutions and with the support of FAO – is focused on creating awareness and building the capacity to deal with the virus, enhance surveillance of the disease, and develop a tilapia lake virus control program.

According to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), the spread of the tilapia lake virus in several countries could be attributed to high trade volumes in live tilapia fingerlings, a lack of proven diagnostic methods for the virus, and the inadequacies in national laboratories to handle any emerging viral infections.

“In many tilapia producing countries, there is a lack (or some gaps) in the recording of aquatic animal movements by veterinary services, which compromises the tracing of further outbreaks,” the OIE said.

The ban on tilapia fingerlings imports by Rwanda is likely to exacerbate the current shortage of fish seed in the country, and constrain trade in aquatic products in East Africa.  

Photo courtesy of Rwanda's Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources

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