Wetenschap - 31 mei 2001

Versatile fish attracts nearly two million guilders for research

Versatile fish attracts nearly two million guilders for research

Tilapia, a relatively new but already popular fish on the menu in restaurants, comes originally from Africa and the Middle East, but is now farmed in large numbers in Asia. A new Wageningen University research programme will examine the potential for breeding a high-yield tilapia type.

Tilapia tastes good and is easy to breed. It is a freshwater fish, but can be farmed in brackish or even salt water as well. In Asia it is often farmed in integrated systems, where crop waste, rice bran or manure are used to feed the fish in ponds on the farm. Deposits from the bottom of the pond are used to fertilise the soil where crops are grown. A system like this makes more efficient use of nutrients, and tilapia is a fast-growing fish and therefore a promising one.

Dr Anne van Dam is the coordinator of the programme which has received 1.8 million guilders from the Wageningen University Inref fund. He explains that the main question the research programme will address is whether it makes sense to breed and select improved Nile tilapia strains (Oreochromis niloticus) for different culture environments. The experience with Dutch milk cows, for example, is that while they produce high quantities of milk in the Netherlands, they do not do well in low-input environments such as in Africa.

Pond environments

One PhD student will focus on the fish itself and investigate whether an improved breed can grow in less favourable environments, or whether a special fish breed needs to be selected. A second PhD study will examine how different kinds of fish interact with different kinds of pond environments. The aim is to optimise the role of the pond in a farming system. These two studies will be done in Egypt, in collaboration with the international fisheries research organisation ICLARM. A third PhD study will be carried out in Vietnam at the Can Tho University in the Mekong Delta. This will focus on the different types of integrated farming systems that produce fish.

Five international and Dutch MSc students will assist the PhD researchers. Dr Hans Komen of the Fish Culture and Fisheries Group in the Department of Animal Sciences is project director, but other Wageningen research groups are also involved, including Animal Production Systems (under Professor Akke van der Zijpp), Animal Breeding and the Laboratory for Soil Science and Geology.

Joris Tielens