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India looks to cast its net wider as China’s fish exports face US curbs

China is currently the largest producer of tilapia, with 1.6 million tonnes of the global output of 6 million tonnes. It is also the biggest supplier of tilapia to the US.

, ET Bureau|
Updated: Sep 10, 2019, 04.29 PM IST
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India's tilapia production is a meagre 20,000 tonnes annually.
KOCHI: India can cash in on Washington’s decision to impose tariffs on tilapia imports from Beijing, replacing its northern neighbour as an alternative supplier of the world’s fourth most-consumed fish species that generates $13 billion in global sales annually.

China is currently the largest producer of tilapia, with 1.6 million tonnes of the global output of 6 million tonnes. It is also the biggest supplier of tilapia to the US.

“The Trump government has imposed 30% tariffs on tilapia imported from China,” said aquaculture expert Kevin Fitzsimmons.

The tariffs may lead the US, which imports 6 lakh tonnes of tilapia annually, to increase purchases from other suppliers in Asia and Latin America. Besides, Chinese production is also hit by problems. “China’s tilapia cultivation is concentrated in Guangdong and Hainan provinces where it is facing labour, land and environmental issues,’’ Fitzsimmons told ET on the sidelines of Aqua Aquaria, the aquaculture event organised by Marine Products Export Development Authority.

He is a professor of the department of soil, water and environmental science of the University of Arizona, and team leader with Myanmar Sustainable Aquaculture Programme. Rich in proteins and omega-3 fats, tilapia fetches a good price of $6.5 per kg, he said. The US market has different sectors that can absorb fresh and frozen tilapia.
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“There are Asian-style restaurants that consume live tilapia sourced from the US. Fresh tilapia fillet goes to grocery stores while frozen ones are bought by hyper markets and lower-end restaurants,’’ Fitzsimmons said.

India is currently the largest shrimp exporter to the US but its tilapia production is a meagre 20,000 tonnes annually. Bangladesh and Myanmar are among the big producers while India’s other neighbours Pakistan and Nepal have rapidly growing tilapia production hubs.

According to Fitzsimmons, as India shares the same climatic and geographic characteristics and has sufficient water and land resources, it could enhance the distribution of stocks of genetically improved farmed tilapia (GIFT).

The country should adopt polyculture in tilapia farming by integrating it with carps and shrimps and grow the fish in ponds, cage farms, reservoirs, and irrigation canals to increase output, he said. “India can double the production in the next three years, ’’ Fitzsimmons said. The tilapia skin is used to make several by-products including, caps, belts and wallets, he said.

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