The Rise of the Aquatic Chicken
Tilapia is the world’s second most farmed fish. Rabobank expects Latin America to step up its supply in the coming years and take a bite out of the growing tilapia market, according to the recent Food & Agribusiness Research industry report 'The Rise of the Aquatic Chicken: Challenges and Opportunities in the Tilapia Industry'.
Rabobank seafood sector analyst Lian Heinhuis says, “As a source of affordable animal protein, tilapia could continue to feed the masses and become a key commodity in the animal protein market.”
“Tilapia has seen great growth in production and has widespread appeal both as a local and an export product. It is amongst the easiest fish to farm, and at least to date, no global disease outbreaks have occurred.”
Global tilapia farming and production
Tilapia farming has expanded to more than 80 countries and global production volumes having grown by an average of 11 percent per year. Tilapia is farmed in small backyard farms as well as industrial compounds managed by multinational companies.
The main tilapia-producing country is China, which accounts for a third of all production. “But rising costs will make Chinese producers less competitive over time, levelling growth and lead producers to focus more domestically. This will likely open the door for other tilapia producers to enter the global market,” says Heinhuis.
“Production methods range from simple cage systems to complex indoor recirculation facilities. Technology has played an important role in the development of the tilapia industry, and innovations such as the sex-reversal technology that allows farmers to grow only the faster-growing male fish have greatly contributed to better farming practices and output,” says Heinhuis.
America’s next top seafood item
In addition, tilapia’s biological characteristics provide further advantages to farmers worldwide. “The fish is relatively resilient, has a low-cost diet, needs little dissolved oxygen in the water and reaches marketable size quickly,” says the Rabobank report.
The US is the most important market for tilapia. Since tilapia is still priced considerably higher than chicken, it is more relevant to compare it with other seafood products.
“Americans consume more than any other major tilapia-eating countries such as Egypt or China. Tilapia has risen fast on the charts of seafood popularity and now only trails salmon, shrimp and tuna as the most favoured seafood item in the US,” says Heinhuis.