The initiative, for which a four-month $10 million pilot project was recently concluded, is spearheaded by newly established entity, Sunshine Aquaculture Limited, in partnership with Aqua Wilson Farm, a 100-acre fresh water fish sanctuary in Hill Run, St. Catherine.
Sunshine Aquaculture is seeking to introduce the new Silver Tilapia as well as improved nutrition and management processes within the local sector, which should serve to complement the indigenous Red Tilapia, regarded as a local culinary favourite, and boost the local industry's output, enabling it to generate earnings of up to US$200 million per annum.
Agriculture and Fisheries Minister, Hon. Roger Clarke, and other officials of the Ministry were taken on a tour of the Aqua Wilson Farm, on August 2, to view the operations.
Sunshine Aquaculture Director, Mark Wildish, said the pilot project demonstrates the possibility of double growth rates for the Silver Tilapia, based on the results of the pilot project, conducted at their Kew Park Farm in Westmoreland, and Aqua Wilson Farm.
He informed that fingerlings at Kew Park grew from 26 grams to 400 grams in 66 days, while those at Aqua Wilson recorded growth of up to 322 grams over the same duration. This contrasts sharply to the 107 days it takes the Red Tilapia fingerling to grow to 26 grams, and 180 days to get to 322 grams.
The main advantage of the Silver Tilapia is that through improved efficiencies, we can significantly reduce the cost of production, and this will allow a lower price for the consumer. We expect that the Jamaica Tilapia will continue to sell. But, our aim is to make sure we can compete with much of the frozen fish which currently comes in from abroad, like the Mangrove Snapper and Grunt, Mr. Wildish said.
Noting that local production declined to 800 tonnes in 2012, Mr. Wildish is optimistic that introduction of the Silver Tilapia will boost output to well over 4,000 tonnes within three years, with the potential to generate earnings of between US$150 million and US$200 million.
Jamaica has great competitive advantage in fish we have great land, great water, and we have already got a lot of the existing farms. In a study done as to the aquaculture potential of Jamaica, it is not impossible to imagine Jamaica producing 50,000 tonnes of Tilapia a year, he added.
Mr. Wildish disclosed plans by Sunshine Aquaculture to commence the development of a fish nursery by year end, with some US$10 million being earmarked for investment in the first phase.
It will be based in Westmoreland. But most of the farming is likely to be done, initially, on the Clarendon and St. Catherine plains, where most of the existing farms are, because we intend to contract farms with existing farmers, he informed.
Mr. Wildish said that the Minister (of Agriculture and Fisheries) has been very supportive of the venture. Meanwhile, Minister Clarke welcomed the initiative, and emphasized that the project demonstrates that local Tilapia production can be significantly advanced with proper genetics and proper feeding systems, thus ensuring that we can compete in a significant way in the global market.
As far as marine fish (is concerned), we are being challenged. The fact (is) that with all that we have been doing with our sanctuaries, the stock is still depleting, and if you look worldwide, aquaculture is growing in a significant way. We must catch up with the world, because that is where our future lies, the Minister said.
Mr. Clarke gave an undertaking to work with Sunshine Aquaculture and other industry stakeholders in safeguarding and enhancing the sectors output. This, he added, is part of the administrations efforts in consolidating the nations food security.
In our programme and our policy, we want Jamaicans to be able to access nutritious foods at a more affordable rate, and this (aquaculture) is one area through which I believe we are going to make a difference, the Minister said.
Owner and operator of Aqua Wilson Farm, Noel Wilson, said he was approached by Mr. Wildish, who was seeking a partner to undertake the pilot project, and willingly consented to participate in the venture.
Pointing out that prior to participating in the pilot project, he only reared Red Tilapia, Mr. Wilson said he intends to remain in Silver Tilapia production.
Mr. Wilson, who noted that 60 per cent of his farm is currently under production, said he currently employs approximately 10 persons, and can produce as much as 10 tonnes of fish per month.
We see the pilot project helping to advance our operations greatly. I plan to remain with Sunshine and rear the Silver Tilapia, which is much cheaper to grow and would enable us to be very competitive against other exporters, he said.
Mr. Wilson also disclosed that he plans to convert another 20 acres of his property into fish ponds within the next two months.