AquaGen sees tilapia genetics promise as Brazil works continue

By Matt Craze

AquaGen CEO Odd Magne Rodseth said the reduction in costs for professional breeding tools is making it viable to introduce genetic selection tools to the tilapia industry.

The Norwegian company is developing breeding programs at a site in Brazil, and also Southeast Asia, to supply farmers with tilapia eggs. This requires building distribution centers to supply new markets such as Colombia and Mexico, Rodseth told Undercurrent News.

Rodseth remains an optimist about the tilapia market despite a prolonged slump in fish prices. The consolidation of the Brazilian market with the entry of meat-packing giant JBS SA and the emergence of new, well-funded entrants such as Tilabras give encouraging signs that the market will take off eventually, he said.

“They really lack a professional breeding company,” Rodseth said of the tilapia industry. “There are lots of large companies building infrastructure in a very professional way including value-added products.”

JBS, the largest meatpacking company in the world, started selling Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC)-certified Brazilian tilapia and Chilean salmon at its branded stores in Sao Paulo last year.

The company is forging ahead with plans to develop its genetics program for Brazil at a site in the Amazon jungle, to supply tilapia farmers. JBS has been tipped to make further investments into the tilapia industry. Brazilian poultry and pork processor Aurora Cooperative Central Foods also emulated JBS this year by supplying tilapia fillets.

It’s been a game of remaining patient for AquaGen, which invested in Brazil in 2016 through the acquisition of farmer Aquabel. EW Group, AquaGen’s parent company, followed this up by acquiring GenoMar Genetics in March 2017. AquaGen said GenMar Genetics is the world’s leading tilapia breeding company and has spent 25 years carrying selective breeding work in tilapia from a base in Luzon in the Philippines.

Tilapia producers have endured a multi-year slump which is down to China turning off US consumers by selling cheaply produced commodity fish to the North American market, said Santiago Salem, CEO of Santa Priscila, the largest shrimp and tilapia producer in Ecuador. Salem is sanguine about the long-term prospects for the fish as it is an excellent protein that lives off a mainly vegetarian diet, he said.

Agrosuper is also optimistic about tilapia as it contemplates the takeover of AquaChile’s Rainforest Tilapia business in Costa Rica. Tilapia is a good fish protein source like salmon and the company will carefully evaluate the business, said Sady Delgado, who runs Agrosuper’s Los Fiordos salmon farming division.

Rodseth said that genetic selection tools can improve the operating costs of tilapia farming, a key step for the long-term profitability of the industry. The key work being done in tilapia genetics is “sustainable intensification”, Rodseth said, boosting the yield per hectare metrics of the industry.

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