Protecting the nature we all rely on for food, fresh water and livelihoods

Easy-going Tilapia — alleviating marine pressures on Samoa’s fisheries

© Kseniya Ragozina

ABOVE: A fisherman holds two tilapia fish.

(This is CI Samoa's eighteenth article published by the Samoa Observer.)

From consuming a large number of fresh fish during special occasions, to the average Samoan eating canned fish throughout the week — fish, in Samoa, is known to be one of the most important sources of protein and nutrients available to the inhabitants of the small island nation.

Whether fresh, frozen, or canned, fish is crucial to the Samoan diet, which makes protecting this resource an important, but at times demanding, task.

And here’s the not-so-good news; according to United Nation’s — “Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO): Fisheries of the Pacific Islands Regional and National Information” report, 2018, the Islands of Samoa are relatively new in a geological sense. With fairly small lagoons, Samoa’s inshore fishing areas are limited compared to those of many other Pacific Island Countries.

This means that any fishing activity causes more pressure than usual within Samoa’s inshore fishing areas.

But not to fear; over the years, through the efforts of Samoa’s Fisheries Division of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF), the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), the United Nations Development Programme/ Global Environment Facility – Small Grants Programme (UNDP/GEF-SGP), Aus-AID through the Australian Centre for International Agriculture Research (ACIAR), and others, Samoa has come up with a solution to this increased pressure — and this solution comes in the form of a small freshwater fish called the Tilapia.

Through seminars, gear support, resource support, aquaculture farming assistance, and capacity building, Samoa’s aquaculture (farming of fish and other freshwater or marine species) activities has seen some great leaps in the past years  — especially with the farming of the Tilapia.

So, what exactly is the Tilapia?

The Tilapia is a small fish with a laterally compressed deep body, a long dorsal fin, and was first introduced to Samoa in the 1950s, among many other countries worldwide in the same period. The fish species live in freshwater  — inhabiting shallow streams, ponds, rivers, and lakes.

The Tilapia are also known to adapt well in a very wide range of conditions, this has led to it being aqua-farmed in over 135 countries.

But what makes the Tilapia a species of interest for aquaculture farming in Samoa and what makes it stand out from the rest?

The Tilapia has become increasingly important in aquaculture and aquaponic activities due to its easy-farming nature. It has also become a big part of food security in a great number of nations.

The species has no problems with living in crowded areas, which makes the stocking of farmed ponds/cages less of an issue; they grow quickly making them a good short to long-term food security solution, and they are also inexpensive to farm as they can consume a cheap vegetarian diet.

These characteristics make it a relatively cheap fish to produce as opposed to other marine seafood. According to online studies, other benefits of farming Tilapia includes; it’s a good source of protein and nutrients, the fish is simple to prepare for meals, and it has a less fishy and an overall great taste.

And as more and more people take a liking to this fish, the pressure on the marine ecosystem will drop resulting in an improved stock of inshore fisheries. In short, more fish in the sea and more fish options with the Tilapia on the menu.

But are there any issues with Tilapia farming?

Speaking from her extensive experience with marine work, Conservation International Samoa’s Programme Associate Officer, Maria Fiasoso Sapatu, explained that one of the biggest issues with Tilapia farming is the risk of them breaking out of captivity and entering the wild making them an invasive species.

Once they enter the wild, they begin feeding on almost anything which impacts ecosystems greatly  — but there are contingency plans to address this.

“With the concern of the Tilapia being an invasive species, I believe that MAF has steps to address this,” Maria explained.  “There are farming guidelines to keep the Tilapia from getting out into rivers and/or lakes. Last I checked, they also have eradication protocols such as full utilization through fishing of the escaped Tilapia.”

Another issue with farming this fish is that although the Tilapia can survive and grow on a cheap vegetarian diet, they won’t be able to grow as efficiently as they can.

With proper fish feed, farmers will be able to efficiently grow fish as the formula for fish food pellets are known to help the Tilapia grow faster, more plump, and taste better. But availability of this fish feed has been a problem in the past which has been addressed in recent years with private businesses importing the necessary fish feed.

All in all, the Tilapia farming has been doing its job, slowly but surely, in alleviating pressure on the marine fisheries while still maintaining that fish-reliant diet Samoan’s enjoy daily.