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The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has warned that a highly infectious disease is going viral among wild and farmed tilapia across the world, which could impact nutrition and global food security if biosafety measures are not implemented

TilapiaFAO recommends the requirements to report unusual fish mortality and restrictions on the movement of live fish by the tilapia producing countries. (Image source: WorldFish/Flickr)

The special alert released by FAO’s global information and early warnings system (GIEWS) on 26 May 2017, said that the Tilapia Lake Virus (TiLV) has now been reported in five countries such as Colombia, Ecuador, Egypt, Israel and Thailand.

FAO recommended the tilapia producing countries to be vigilant and adopt biosecurity measures including increasing diagnostic testing, identifying risk factors, implementing contingency plans and developing vaccines to prevent the disease.

In a statement to Scidev, Melba Reantaso, aquaculture officer at the FAO, emphasised, “All countries culturing tilapia and especially those translocating live tilapia should be vigilant about the disease and take appropriate risk management measures to reduce the likelihood of imported stocks being infected with TiLV.”

Tilapia is considered the most popular fish for human consumption worldwide. It is one of the top aquaculture species by volume, which contribute to the domestic trade and export for many smallholders across the world.

In 2015, world tilapia production, from both aquaculture and capture, amounted to 6.4mn tonnes, which was worth US$9.8bn, with the worldwide trade being valued at US$1.8bn.

The TiLV disease is related to the anaemia virus and shows a high rate of mortality in the species. The report showed that the outbreak in Thailand has triggered death of up to 90 per cent of tilapia stocks.

FAO revealed that the infected fish often show sluggishness, loss of appetite, slow movement, lesions of the skin, eye abnormalities and opacity of lens. The organisation emphasised the need for further research to determine whether the TiLV is carried by other aquatic species, or the disease is transmitted via frozen tilapia products.

The tilapia producing countries are encouraged to build awareness programme about TiLV in all sector of the producing chain, especially to the medium-to-small scale farmers with limited knowledge about the disease.