Top Luzon university seeing red in ‘tilapia’
SCIENCE CITY OF MUÑOZ— The redder the better.
Fishery scientists and researchers at the Freshwater Aquaculture Center of the Central Luzon State University (CLSU-FAC) here are improving the hue of the red tilapia to make it more attractive to a growing market for this variety.
Dr. Tereso Abella, leader of the “Genetic Enhancement of the Red Nile Tilapia Breeding Program” of the CLSU-FAC, said their tests aimed to produce a brighter, “flaming red” variety.
The program is funded by the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCAARRD), which said the red tilapia is much sought after because of its appealing color.
The red tilapia sells for P130 to P150 a kilogram while the common Nile tilapia sells for P90 to P100 a kg.
Abella said improving the tilapia’s color is also meant to entice more people to cultivate this variety.
PCAARRD, in its “Siyensaya Fair” last year at the University of the Philippines in Los Baños, Laguna, showcased the red tilapia to attract and inform the public, particularly entrepreneurs, on the prospect of growing this type of fish.
PCAARRD officials said there is a niche market for red tilapia, particularly Chinese gourmands who associate red with luck.
The red tilapia was introduced to the aquaculture industry only in the 1960s when Taiwan produced a mutated cross between the Mozambique tilapia and the ordinary Nile tilapia (Tilapia nilotica).
In the 1970s, three variants of these red tilapia were produced in the United States, Israel and Taiwan. The species found its way to the Philippines from Singapore in 1978.
Its development in the country, however, was described as slow because of the lack of fingerlings. Also, growers were not readily enticed to venture into commercial production because of its relatively slower growth.
Tilapia, which has about 100 species, are predominantly dark and originated exclusively from the African continent and from Palestine.
In the Philippines, tilapia was introduced in the early 1950s for commercial production but was not generally accepted by consumers because of its dark color. That tilapia was the Mozambique strain.
In 1970, a new strain, the Nile tilapia, which has a lighter color, was introduced. That started the popularity of this freshwater fish in the country.
Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala said tilapia production in the country ranks fourth behind China, Egypt and Indonesia.
“For purposes of our research work, we got our variant of the red Nile tilapia from the Institute of Stirling in the United Kingdom. We are exploring the use of carotenoid pigments found in plants to enhance the pigmentation in the skin of the fish,” said Abella, also CLSU vice president for academic affairs.
He said the meat of the red tilapia remains “cotton white.” Abella said carotenoids are added in the formulated diet of the fish. These are from the annatto seeds, tomatoes, carrots and yellow corn, he said.
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