Tilapia, Vietnam’s 10th biggest farmed fish currency earner, holds promising potential on the back of infrastructure, farming techniques and market connectivity.

Last year, the total area of tilapia aquaculture at ponds and lakes nationwide spanned 16,000 hectares and yielded 125,000 tonnes. The figure is expected to rise to 21,000 hectares and 150,000 tonnes this year, according to the Directorate of Fisheries.

Tilapias for export are processed into skin-on fillets, skinless fillets and frozen whole fish which have gained popularity.

Professor David Little from the Institute of Aquaculture under the University of Stirling of Scotland said Central and Southern American countries are targeting North America for fresh fillet shipments, adding that wholesalers are seeking other supplies beyond China, but few are offering competitive prices.

Vietnam currently boasts 600 aquatic product processing facilities with a total yearly capacity of 2.8 million tonnes, making it easier for the tilapia breeding and processing industry to grow. It is eyeing 60 countries and territories for export with an estimated volume in excess of 32 million USD, including major markets of the US, Spain and Colombia.

Consumption demand is bouncing back not only in the US but all over the world, said Ngo The Anh from the Directorate of Fisheries’ Department of Aquaculture.

However, the sector is also facing hindrances concerning the quality of fries imported mostly from China, the high cost of feed and low disease resistance.

Going behind China, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines in terms of tilapia exports, Vietnam tends to encounter certain difficulties when navigating new markets, including the US and Europe, he added.

Pham Anh Tuan, Deputy Director General of the Vietnam Fisheries Department, said 70 percent of tilapia is bred in the Mekong Delta and the remaining is in the north. As many as 455 million tilapia fries are up on the market each year.

Under a tilapia breeding master plan until 2020, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development encourages institutes, universities and enterprises to import fries for research and self-produce those suitable to each region’s climate and soil.

On fry quality management, Departments of Agriculture and Rural Development need to conduct regular inspections and quarantines while localities are to crack down on fish cage farming to prevent pollution.

Professor Little recommended tilapia farming be up to Global Good Agricultural Practices standards and developing trademarks to compete with experienced rivals.-VNA