The ‘First’ in Knowledge-based Fishery 2005-07-14 / By Wu Qiuqiong
What is Taiwan tilapia? Tilapia was originally an African species, it was then introduced to Taiwan in 1946. After sixty years of hybridization and breeding improvements, it became an endemic unique
Taiwanese species and was officially named Taiwan tilapia in 2002.It is one of the few fishery products available all year round and has been chosen by the Council of Agriculture, Executive Yuan, as one of the four flagship products. Jiang Fu-song, the Executive Director of Taiwan Tilapia Alliance and the Profes sor at the Graduate Institute of Applied Economics of National Taiwan Ocean University, is an important instigator that has given the fish the name of Taiwan tilapia and considered it a “national treasure”. This indicates that “whether we look at the issue from the aspect of productivity, total farming area, related industries or the employed population, Taiwan tilapia is a very significant species for Taiwan’s aquaculture.”
The interesting thing is that the Taiwan tilapia fillet is highly regarded by Japanese as a delicacy, though it does not enjoy the same popularity in Taiwan. Not only that, Taiwanese has retained the stereotypical impression of tilapia as a cheap food fish. Very few people know that tilapia has been applauded as the “fish of the 21st century” since it has been listed by UN Food and Agriculture Organization as a species to be promoted for aquaculture. Tilapia is even the first fish that has ever been in the outer space. Accordingly, NASA had asked many aquaculture experts about the choice of fish to be sent and in the end tilapia was chosen by Dr. Huang Jianjin’s recommendation, who came from Taiwan. The main reason was that in outer space it would be ideal if waste could be recycled to produce more food. NASA then performed various related experiments, one of which was using the microbes from leftovers of vegetal roots and stems to raise tilapia in a sealed cultivation space. This is the “significant mission” stemming from its unusual growth characteristics.
The bad name of tilapia came in the seventies and eighties when the government advocated the so-called “Combined Agriculture, Fishery and Livestock Raising” program to improve the income of farmers by integrating the management of farm crops, livestock and aquaculture and using the excrement of livestock as a source of fish feed to recycle waste and cut costs. This created a negative impression in consumers’ heads and greatly reduced their interest in buying tilapia. Today, tilapia farming has progressed from primitive part-time engagement type to intensive professional type of cultivation. The feed is specially formulated and dispensed by automated systems. The entire process is hygienic and being processed in scientific way. These changes not only helped save a lot of manpower, but also result in better control of fish quality and higher productivity and production value. Currently the US and Japan are the two major export markets.
Origin of The Name “Taiwan Tilapia”
The name ‘Taiwan tilapia’ was chosen primarily to distinguish the markets. Dr. Jiang points out that, “There are many types of tilapia in the world. The name Taiwan tilapia was given in order to distinguish its geological origin. Experts and scholars from both the government and private sectors wer
e invited to stipulate a set of “Taiwan Tilapia Product Criteria”. This covers certification of fry specimen, aquaculture management, marketing and transportation, and existing processing procedures to ascertain quality. Only when all the standards are met, can it be called Taiwan tilapia!”
Currently the US and Japan are still the major export markets for Taiwan tilapia. Processing plants must pass the HACCP certification and be equipped with rapid cryogenic freezing and vacuum-packing facilities, as well as straight-through processing. The quality is therefore in line with international standards and the products are sold worldwide. The processed types include: whole frozen, meaning freezing the entire fish after scaling and gutting; and fillets, meaning slicing off the meat from both sides of the fish, rapidly freezing it with liquid nitrogen and vacuum-packing it. Top quality fillets can be directly consumed as sashimi. Sushi fillets are to be used for sushi or nikiri. In the future, Taiwan tilapia processing plants will begin the production of breaded Taiwan tilapia croquettes and fillets. Yet considering the high cost of labor in Taiwan and the need to open new markets, the Taiwan Tilapia Alliance will also work on the technology for breaded tilapia croquette and fillet series, hoping to develop new products with high added value.
To Develop Taiwan Tilapia Farming, the Time Is Just Right
The torrential rains few days ago flooded southern Taiwan and the relocation of aquaculture fisheries once again became an issue. As the future of aquaculture was in question, Dr. Jiang Fusong expresses his opinion: “This is the right time to develop Taiwan tilapia farming into knowledge-based fishery!”
As Taiwan’s aquaculture already possesses the proud know-how whether in the fry-breeding technology, raising, feed formulation, product processing or keeping up with the international market, Taiwan tilapia has to be the number one choice for setting up Taiwan’s knowledge-based fishery. In the worldwide trade liberalization and market globalization, the production base need not be limited to be within Taiwan. The key is the control of fry, feed and sales channels and markets across the globe. Dr. Jiang further points out: “Aquaculture businesses should regard quality upgrade as their primary concern and improve their processing methods to get better export prices to create a breakthrough in the international market.”
Quality upgrade for Taiwan tilapia includes improving the quality and size of the meat, shortening transportation time and improving the feed formulae and adopting automated feed dispensers to cut labor costs. As to the fry, the number of female fish should be reduced to speed up the growth of male fish to a uniform size to enhance the attractiveness of products. Concerning the exportation of aquaculture technology, the ROC International Cooperation and Development Fund, Fishery Administration and Council of Agriculture must work together to consolidate Taiwan tilapia production resources to promote industry migration (keeping raw material outlet in Taiwan) to utilize the Know-how of the aquaculture businesses in more effective applications. In addition, Dr, Jiang also appeals that the Fishery Administration to establish a certification system for production and marketing and fish products to reduce aquaculture businesses’ certification and production costs and enhance market incentives. It is the responsibility of the Department of Health to establish a tilapia fillet tagging system to make it easier to track down product origins for consumer protection. Through a sound production and marketing mechanism, Taiwan tilapia will not only satisfy the palate of Taiwanese people, it may also gain an international reputation and become a popular label for food fish.