Some 3,000 Andros-grown tilapia are being prepped to hit the Bahamas retail market in early 2019. The farm raised fish will help fill the demand left after the closure of the Nassau Grouper season, a senior official at the Bahamas Agriculture and Marine Science Institute (BAMSI) announced on Monday. The addition of the tilapia to BAMSI’s product offering also marks the beginning of the Institute’s planned venture into aquaculture. Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources Michael Pintard said his primary interest is in the Institute’s ability to utilize this enterprise as a research initiative which would provide scientific data to Bahamians who may be interested in commercial aquaculture. Secondly, Minister Pintard encouraged the BAMSI team to aggressively explore opportunities for public-private partnerships so the project could benefit from private funding and expertise which could catalyze the growth and profitability of the venture.
The all-male Nile tilapia were introduced to the Institute’s aquaponics facility in North Andros earlier this month, and are expected to be ready for harvest in six months. The launch of the locally grown/farm-raised fish into the Bahamian economy falls in line with the Government’s commitment to support sustainable fisheries, and invest in critical components needed to push the nation toward a food-secure future, Alaasis Braynen, the chief executive officer of BAMSI said. He noted further that the first consumers of the tilapia will be BAMSI’s own students. “BAMSI has the mandate, ‘we eat what we grow’, then commercially it’s part of the strategy to reduce BAMSI’s financial dependence on the Bahamas Government. It’s really going to increase our revenue thereby reducing the government’s subvention,” he said. The upswing in interest in tilapia by restaurants, wholesale fisheries, and retail agencies comes at a time when the Nassau Grouper, which is a popular fish amongst Bahamians and tourists, has been listed as endangered due to large-scale commercial and recreational fishing, poaching and unregulated fishing methods.
A fixed season, with government-backed oversight, now limits the amount of grouper
available to the market, opening the way for new types of fish to satisfy the needs of the Bahamian consumer. With BAMSI entering the fish farm arena, it means that a viable source of protein will be available year-round. Going forward, BAMSI plans on bringing in the tilapia fingerlings every six weeks to replenish its stock. Vallierre Deleveaux Ph.D., head of the Marine Division at BAMSI, personally traveled to Florida to select the species and engineered the method of successful transport to the Andros Research/Tutorial Farm. Keith Treco, an Agricultural Development Officer attached to BAMSI’s marine science division, was part of the team that supported the introduction of the tilapia to
the Institute’s aquaponics facility on August 25 th. A thorough acclimation process was undertaken to ensure the fish remained healthy and viable, Mr. Treco said. The process involved slowly introducing them to the water through a semi-permeable material that allowed the fish to adjust to changes in the water temperature, pH, and other conflicting factors. Following the acclimation process, the fish were fed Purina Aqua Max Starter Fish Feed and were then monitored and recorded. A netting material now covers each of the holding tanks to prevent birds and other potential predators from attacking the fish.
Mr. Treco credited proper handling during transport and successful acclimation process for a zero mortality rate. All of the fish are reported to be in good health and are feeding well.
Native to both Africa and Israel, the adult Nile tilapia can reach up to 24 inches in length. The species takes five to six months to reach full maturity at which point it usually weighs approximately 1.5 pounds. From a technical stance, one of the more attractive points in rearing tilapia in the Bahamas and bringing it into a market that has traditionally focused on salt or sea water fish is that it is a hardy species with a very high tolerance to a wide range of pH and salinity levels. Even though the tilapia is primarily a freshwater species it can tolerate/survive in a brackish (slight salt water) water environment. The fish can also survive temperatures between 46 to 102 degrees Fahrenheit; and can be successfully cultured in tropical and sub-tropical climates.