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Nile-Tilapia in Thailand

Tilapia king bhumibol - His Majesty the King has graciously. King Fish is the name Pla-Nil and the Royal Fish 3-5 cm length of 10,000 to the Department of Fisheries to culture propagation. March 17, 1966

His Majesty the King has graciously. King Fish is the name "Pla-Nil" and the Royal Fish 3-5 cm length of 10,000 to the Department of Fisheries to culture propagation. March 17, 1966 ( Image from The Department of Fisheries Thailand.)

On March 25, 1965, Emperor Akihito, as His Royal Highness Crown Prince of Japan at that time, sent, as the royal tribute to His Majesty the King, 50 Nile-Tilapias (or called “Pla Nil” in Thai) with an average body length of approximately 9 cm and average weight of around 14 grams. At first, His Majesty the King allowed them to be fed in a pond with an area of approximately 10 square meters in Chitlada garden, Dusit Palace. After a bit more than 5 months, there seemed to be a lot of fry showing up. His Majesty then commanded royal garden staff to dig another 6 new ponds with an average area of approximately 70 square meters, which His Majesty consequently transferred the fish from the old ponds to these 6 new ponds by himself on September 1, 1965. Subsequently, His Majesty demanded the Department of Fisheries to send technical staff to monitor their growth on a monthly basis.

Because a Nile-Tilapia is a kind of fish that is easy to care for, has a good taste, bear a lot of fry, and has a rapid growth, it was His Majesty’s intention to breed this species of fish for the sake of his populace. Therefore, on March 17, 1966, His Majesty bestowed a royal name to the fish as "Nile-Tilapia", and, sent 10,000 of them with body lengths of 3-5 cm to the Department of Fisheries to feed and breed them at the Experimental and Breeding Plan on central Bangkhen campus, and other 15 fishery stations throughout the kingdom, which, after the fish species had growned enough population, they could be distributed to the people to feed and breed as they liked. (Source: Publication of Department of Fisheries).

Currently, the aquaculture of Nile-Tilapias has expanded throughout the country, and, become the No. 1 freshwater-fish produce in Thailand with a volume of more than 200,000 tons per year (in 2008). This creates various kinds of jobs and professional careers through the cycles of fish nurseries, fish food manufacturers, fish farmers, production suppliers, fishermen, freezing storage, and market traders.

It is estimated that the need for the male fry of Nile-Tilapias in Thailand nowadays (2007 onwards) is more than 800 millions of them per year, which all of the large farms combined cannot produce enough to feed the farmers’ needs in some producing seasons.

Because Nile-Tilapias have become economic produce with large markets and tremendous values, there come various kinds of productivity development both in government sector, led by the Department of Fisheries, and in private sector, including fish nurseries, fish food manufacturers, and fish farmers. In order to achieve good-quality produce that grows fast with a good fillet, various strains of the Nile-Tilapias are created, while the major forms of upbringing are in an earth pond and in floating baskets in rivers.

Naturally, male Nile-Tilapias will grow much faster than their female counterparts. This causes the need for purely male fish rather than a mixed gender school to farm. Therefore, some breeders try to develop a process that makes the females become males, or, not show the female characteristics; having no eggs and growing faster. There are several ways to do so.

The gender changing process, which is popular, secure, and widely used around the world, is to change Nile-Tilapia gender by mixing male hormones (17 α Methyltestosterone) with food for the fry, whose yolk sac have disappeared. In time, the fry that receive male hormones will become male permanently. This process requires high production costs, and, results in more expensive prices for a school of such fry than their mixed gender counterparts. However, these transsexual fry will grow faster and yield more cost-effeciency than the mixed gender type. Therefore, male fry are extremely demanded by Nile-Tilapia farmers.

Currently, there are a lot of transsexual Nile- and Red-Tilapia (or called “Pla Tubtim” in Thai) breeding farms all over Thailand, both in government and private sectors. The gender-changing process nowadays is also considered as a craftsmanship production, which significantly requires expertise and dedication of the breeders. Therefore, size of the farm has no effect on the quality but rather the quantity of the fry. Small or large farms can produce equivalently good qualities of fry depending on production system, skills of employees, resolution and dedication in every step, as well as the required specification of the transsexual Nile-Tilapias, whether to be farmed in earth ponds or in fish cage. (The production for floating basket farming is more difficult and requires higher costs.)

An alternative for fish farmers, Phum Thai Farm is a male-fry producing farm, which improves its existing production system by reducing the risk of incomplete gender-changing of the fry at some points, such as operating with a modern transsexual food processing system, specifically designing ponds for transsexual fry, developing strains of rapidly growing fry that are resistant to diseases, and, using no antibiotics in any step of the process. The operations are controlled by the experienced staff in gender-changing of the Nile-Tilapias so that the resulting fry have the highest ratio of males, are naturally strong with high survival rate, and, grow rapidly without any chemical residue in their bodies, which are demanded by farmers throughout the country, as well as the frozen processing factory and export markets around the world.

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