Satya Nand Lal and Roberto Foscarini *

Fisheries Division, Ministry of Primary Industries, Fiji

* FAO/South Pacific Aquaculture Development Project, Suva, Fiji

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Tilapia species have been periodically introduced in Fiji since 1949. The main reason for the introduction was to provide animal protein feed to piggeries. In later years, the idea of utilizing Tilapia species for human consumption took root and for the last 10 years Oreochromis niloticus has been the species of choice for aquaculture purposes. Since 1983 fish ponds were constructed in the interior areas of Viti Levu and Vanua Levu for the purpose of providing supplemental animal protein to the protein-deficient inland rural communities.

Uncontrolled introduction, accidental or intentional release of Tilapia species in rivers and streams, has led to genetic contamination through free cross-breeding of wild dwelling populations during flooding with the broodstock kept in the hatchery for breeding purposes.

Probably due to genetic contamination, the performance of the broodstock deteriorated resulting in poor quality fry. Hatchery-reared fry, once stocked for grow-out in village ponds, reproduced early and the growth rate was low.

Appropriate feed composition and preparation represent a constraint for improving yields. In addition, feed components are irregularly available and their cost high due to competition with other animal husbandry practices.

Additional constraints to fish farming development are identified in the lack of trained manpower, land tenure and financing initial costs in the country.


Tilapia species have been introduced in a number of Pacific countries at different times and for different purposes in the last 50 years. Tilapia was generally considered an easy species to culture and a good source of animal proteins for protein-deficient inland communities.

In many countries, the introduction of Tilapia was unpopular owing to the fact that the new species competed with more valuable and appreciated indigenous species, especially milkfish and mullet.

For certain Pacific Island countries, Tilapia eradication represents today one of the major constraints to aquaculture development. Tilapia introduction in Fiji found public approval and produced beneficial effects for rural development.

In recent years, Tilapia culture became popular among Fijian villagers in remote inland areas and government bodies and aid organizations are strongly supporting its development.

Current price of Tilapia (O. niloticus) is F$ 3.00/kg (US$ 2.00) at Suva Municipal Market, while it was F$ 0.35/kg (US$ 0.23) in 1977 (Popper, 1977).

In this paper we describe the chronology of Tilapia species introduction in Fiji and identify a set of constraints to Tilapia culture development.


Tilapia was introduced in Fiji over 40 years ago mainly from Asian countries (Table 1).

The date of the first introduction of Tilapia in Fiji is unclear, but seems that the first stock of Tilapia (Oreochromis mossambicus), formerly known as Tilapia mossambica, was brought to Fiji in 1949 and stocked at the Sigatoka Agriculture Research Station (Uwate et al., 1984; Villaluz, 1972).

The first reliable record is dated January 1954 when 54 fingerlings of Orechromis mossambicus, were shipped from Malaysia via Singapore by Dr. W. J. Payne and stocked at Sigatoka Agriculture Station (Holmes, 1954; van Pel, 1955; Villaluz, 1972; Rabanal et al., 1981; Uwate et al., 1984; Gillett, 1989; Gulick, 1989). The 54 fingerlings were imported at 100% survival rate and their average length was 5.1 cm. In two months (March, 1954) the fingerlings reached an average size of 17.8–22.9 cm and reproduced (Pyane et al., 1954).

The reason for the introduction of Tilapia in Fiji is quite peculiar. The species was initially introduced to provide animal protein for pig stocks. Preliminary experiments were conducted at Sigatoka Agriculture Research Station (SARS) where piggery effluents provided fish pond fertilization and cultured fish were fed to the pigs raised at the station. The possibility of using Tilapia for human consumption was also examined. At the time of its introduction, Tilapia fish was reported to be well appreciated for its flavor and texture (Holmes, 1954; Pyane et al., 1954).

In 1956, three additional ponds were constructed at the SARS to breed Tilapia for human consumption (Fiji Dept. of Agriculture, 1957). The following year, breeding trials were continued and several local ponds at schools and villages were stocked with Tilapia.

Between late 1950s and early 1960s, O. mossambicus were released into natural waters to increase inland fisheries production and to provide a food base for game fishing (Uwate et al., 1984). Sigatoka, Rewa and Navua rivers and their tributaries were stocked with the fry grown at the SARS. O. mossambicus fry were also taken to the other main island of the Fiji, Vanua Levu.

By early to mid 1960s, O. mossambicus become quite popular in the diet of inland villagers. Wild Tilapia were caught from rivers averaging 20.3 to 35.6 cm in length and weighing up to 1 kg, whereas the Tilapia raised in ponds reached the average length of 15.2 cm (Villaluz, 1972).

In 1968 Oreochromis niloticus was introduced to Fiji. The strain originated from Israel according to Lewis and Pring (1986). Even though the source of the new Tilapia species is uncertain, it is significant to note that Fijian people call “maleya” (form Malaysia) Tilapia that is caught from the rivers, streams and paddy fields and “maleya ni israeli” (from Israel) the Tilapia cultured in ponds.

Oreochromis niloticus, was introduced owing to its better growth rate compared to that of O. mossambicus, and for controlling Tilapia population by cross breeding the two species to produce monosex Tilapia hybrids. The cross-breeding experiments and polyculture trials were carried out at the Raviravi Aquaculture Station, Ba Province, but with little success. Cross-breeding (female O. mossambicus x male O. niloticus) conducted in the early 1970s at the Raviravi Aquaculture Station showed an F1 generation with a 1:1 sex ratio.

Several strains of O. niloticus were imported at different times with the purpose of introducing more appropriate strains to suit the local conditions. Fast growth and late spawning behavior were considered the main desirable qualities. In 1979, a strain of O. niloticus was brought to Fiji from Israel again (Uwate et al., 1984) and later, in 1988, another “Chitralada” strain was imported from Thailand (FAO/SPADP 1988).

Other Tilapia species and hybrids were also introduced to test their suitability for culturing and cross-breeding to produce higher percentage of male hybrids. The species includes red Tilapia hybrid from Taiwan in 1981 and Oreochromis hornorum and O. aurea from Taiwan in 1985 as reported in Table 1.

At present only O. niloticus (“Chitralada” strain) is used for stocking rural fish ponds owing to its better performance compared to the other species.


Government Policy

Since 1975 (Development Plan 7, 1975–1980), the Fiji Government through its Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, stressed the importance of developing rural fish farming for both subsistence and commercial purposes. In those years, however, very little was accomplished, but the basis for rural farming development were established. The Naduruloulou Freshwater Aquaculture Center, Naitasiri Province, was established in 1948 and expanded to a total of 12 ponds in 1976 (Uwate et al., 1984) and the Raviravi facilities continued to be utilized for polyculture, cross-breeding and population control trials.

During the years 1981–1985 (Development Plan 8), the technical feasibility of aquaculture practices were established for many species, but no commercial operations were implemented. In spite the target of 500 mt of cultured fish to be produced at the village level during DP8 under the Fish Farming Project, according to an FAO review (Nelson, 1989) only 3 mt of fish were produced.

The latest Development Plan 9 (1986–1990) reported on the Fish Farming Project stating that the project “provided advisory services to numerous interested fish farm developers. About 40 fish ponds, ranging in size from 0.125 to 0.2 ha, were established as a result of this project”.

Rural Fish Farming

Very little data are available with regard to Tilapia culture in rural areas during the early years of farming in Fiji.

From 1983 Tilapia farming was carried out at a subsistence level in rural areas and since then, with a few exceptions, it is still continuing at the same level. A total of 15 fish farms were in operation with a total area of 4,903 m2 ha utilized for culturing in 1983. From these ponds an estimated harvest of 610 kg was obtained. Table 2 lists the number of ponds, the total area under cultivation and the total harvest obtained from 1983 to 1989.

Subsistence level of farming involves small ponds (100 to 200 m2) dug by hand with low capital investment, low operating cost, low general management and low yield per unit area. This operations serve the dietary needs of families or small communities. On the harvest day, word is passed around and the villagers flock to the pond site to observe and buy any surplus fish as soon as harvested. Over the years with the improvement of culture techniques, the level of operations is gradually evolving from a subsistence to a semi-commercial level. Tilapia culture has, in some cases, developed into small scale enterprises.

The social significance of Tilapia farming in rural areas appears clear when the situation of isolation from major markets for most of the inland villages is taken into account. Other animal husbandry practices such as raising pigs, poultry and cattle are not yet fully established owing to their requirements of large amounts of land or more intensive labor. In this context, Tilapia, being an easy species to grow and providing good source of animal protein is becoming more and more popular and its culture attractive for inland villagers. At present, Tilapia farming has sited itself very well to integrate into the small rural economy and plays an important role in overall rural development in Fiji.



No data have been published or recorded with regard to the original Tilapia stock introduced into Fiji to enable to track down their origin or their genetic traits.

Based on the experience of the only government-operated Tilapia hatchery, problems are identified especially concerning the management of the hatchery. This represents a constraint for the development of Tilapia farming in Fiji.

Problems in hatchery management included:

1) Fry Production

No data on the source of Tilapia introduced in Fiji were kept and the supply of good genetic quality broodfish was hindered. There were no proper holding facilities available to keep the broodstock separated during flooding and to avoid the loss of broodstock in the wild.

The earlier strains of O. niloticus broodfish were not replaced regularly and a pure genetic line was not maintained. The fry production was carried out in earthern ponds and the broodstock cross-bred with wild dwelling populations during floods. After floods receded, the remaining broodstock were caught and transferred to the original breeding ponds. It was difficult to identify the original broodstock kept in each pond. The fry produced were supplied to the farmers and in most cases they reproduced at an early stage (2.5 to 3 months) leading to overcrowding of the ponds and resulting in small stunted fish.

2) Feed

There were no proper feed available for the maintenance of broodfish and the rearing of fry. They were fed on whatever feed was available (i.e rice bran, wheat bran etc.). This may have contributed to the production of poor quality fry.

In order to solve the above problems, a pure strain of O. niloticus “Chitralada” was introduced from the National Inland Fisheries Institute of Thailand as recommended by the ICLARM, Manila, under FAO/South Pacific Aquaculture Development Project funding in 1988. At present all farms are supplied with fingerlings of “Chitralada” strain but, there are still reported cases of early breeding in some fish farms.

In Fiji, no research has been carried out on selective breeding of this strain and also on hybridization and monosex fry production. The fingerlings of “Chitralada” strain are at present acceptable, but a better quality of fry will significantly improve the production.

Problems in rural Tilapia farming include:

1) Manpower

There has been no tradition of fish farming in Fiji and hence most farmers still lack basic knowledge on proper fish pond management. In addition, there is a lack of trained extension staff and also lack of an efficient data collection system which further makes rural fish farming development slow and difficult to monitor. Most farms are rural based and dispersed over a wide area and there is a need for a regular extension support. The government provides basic extension services only and there is a need for more trained extension staff and the training of fish farmers. At present, many skilled staff are tempted to leave government service and take jobs in other fields or countries.

2) Land tenure

The traditional land ownership and its tenure system in Fiji hinders rural fish farming development to some extent. With regard to land use, it must be considered that the largest part of it is owned by the native communities (84% of the total land) and only a minor part by the government (8%) and rest by private owners. Thus, any intervention of the government to help a fish farmer to establish fish ponds on native land must have the consent of the village “Mataqali” chief and its members.

3) Feeding

There has been no pelletized fish feed manufactured in Fiji. Tilapia are fed on various locally available feeds usually agricultural by-products which are in powder form. These are wheat bran, wheat pollard, rice bran, rice pollard, copra meal, bone and meat meal and fish meal. These feeds are mixed such that the crude protein content is 20– 25%. This feed quality has proven to be barely adequate and if pellets can be locally manufactured, production could be increased.

Sometimes it is difficult to obtain feed ingredients due to competition with established practices. Some feeds are available only in certain areas and the required amounts are not available to conduct proper feed studies. Due to the scattered location of the fish farms, farmers feed whatever is available and sometimes no feeding is provided. The feed millers usually sell feeds in 40–50 kg bags and this is very expensive for a small scale farmer.

4) Financing initial costs

Commercial Tilapia culture is still at an experimental stage and there is only one financial institution (Fiji Development Bank) that has given loans to a government assisted pilot project in view of the risks involved. Further financial assistance in the form of loans to other farmers, may depend on the success of the government pilot project.

Rural fish farming started on a subsistence level but farmers have commercial objectives i.e profit motive. Nevertheless, there are only a few successful commercial farmers and it is too early to assess the prospect of widespread Tilapia culture development and hence lack of assistance from financial institutions.

The high cost of pond construction, water pumps, feed and and rent are also a hindrance to commercial Tilapia culture.


Recently the government has initiated research programmes for the genetic improvement of “Chitralada” strain by carrying out selective breeding. In addition hybridization of Oreochromis niloticus x O. aurea will be carried out to produce a higher percentage of monosex fry (male) to supply farmers. The Government will sponsor a research on the use of dietary hormones to manipulate the sex of young Tilapia. The “Chitralada” strain is giving adequate results, and if the above programmes prove successful, they will improve the quality of fry and significantly improve production.

The problem of flooding has been partially solved by dredging the river adjacent to the hatchery to alleviate flooding. In addition, 22 plastic lined knockdown tanks (10– 20 m3) and 5 concrete tanks (15–30 m3) have been constructed and are not subjected to flooding. All fry production work is carried out in these tanks and there is very little chance of genetic contamination. A stable supply of good quality fry can easily be produced from these tanks.

The government has initiated a research programme to formulate and manufacture fish pelletized feeds using locally available materials. A feasibility study on the economics of pellets manufacture will also be carried out. Based on the results of the study, a feed miller could be contracted to make pelletized feeds to supply fish farmers at government controlled prices.

In order to enhance farmers knowledge on Tilapia farming, training will be carried out for farmers. Training on Tilapia extension work will also be provided to selected agricultural extension officers and fisheries extension officers. These officers will provide advisory services to rural fish farmers.

It is anticipated that the development of rural fish farming will play a more important role for the inland communities, considering their isolation from the major markets and taking into account the general situation of over-fishing in coastal areas and reefs. Rural fish farming has the potential to contribute to improve diet and nutrition of the people inhabiting isolated areas and also general land use practices.


We wish to thank Dr. Tim Adams, Director of Fisheries, Ministry of Primary Industries, Fisheries Division, for his invaluable suggestions and critical review of the manuscript. We also would like to express our sincere gratitude to Mr. Hideyuki Tanaka, Project Manager, FAO/South Pacific Aquaculture Development Project for his contribution to the preparation of the manuscript and for having made available funds necessary to present the work at the Asian Regional Workshop on Tilapia Genetics, Nueva Ecija, Philippines, 29–31 Aug., 1990.


Fiji Department of Agriculture, 1957. Annual reports of divisional and specialist officers 1957. Dept. of Agriculture Bulletin No. 33.

Fiji's Seventh Development Plan, 1976. Central Planning Office, Suva, Fiji, 1976.

Fiji's Eighth Development Plan, 1980. Vol 1 & 2. Central Planning Office, Suva, Fiji, Dec., 1980.

Fiji's Nineth Development Plan, 1985. Policies strategies and programmes for national development 1986–1990. Central Planning Office, Suva, Fiji, Nov., 1985.

Gillett, R., 1989. Tilapia in the Pacific Islands: are there lessons to be learned? Unpublished. FAO Regional Fisheries Support Programme, Suva, Fiji.

Gulick, C.T., 1989. A review of aquaculture in Fiji. Rural Aquaculture Program. Report to the U.S. Peace Corp, Suva, Fiji, December 1989.

Holmes, S., 1954. Report on the possibility of using Tilapia mossambica as human food. Fiji Ag. J., 25 (3–4): 79.

Lewis, A.D. and Pring, C.K., 1986. Freshwater and brackishwater fish and fisheries of Fiji. FAO Fisheries Report No. 371 Supplement, FIRI/R371. Indo-Pacific Commission, Bangkok, Thailand, 4–9 August 1986.

Nelson, S., 1989. A regional survey of the aquaculture sector in the Pacific. FAO Aquaculture Development and Coordination Programme. ADCP/REP/88/32. 48 pp.

Popper, D., 1977. Fiji fish culture. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Rome. FOA FI: DP Fij/73/016/1. July 1977. 18 pp.

Pyane W.J.A., Naidu, R.K., Sills, V.E., and Holmes, S.V., 1954. Fiji farming. Fiji Ag. J., 25 (3 & 4): 71–76.

Rabanal, H.R., Tui Cavuilati, S. and Mate, F., 1981. The development of aquaculture in Fiji. A consultancy report to the Government of Fiji by the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific (RAPA), Bangkok, Thailand.

South Pacific Aquaculture Development Project, 1988. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, File: FIJ/6, 1988, Suva, Fiji.

Uwate, K.R., Kunatuba P., Raobati, B. and Tenakanai C., 1984. A review of the aquaculture activities in the Pacific Islands Region. Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center, Honolulu, Hawaii.

van Pel, H., 1955. Pond culture of Tilapia. South Pacific Commission Quart. Bull., 5 (3): 30–31.

Villaluz, D.K., 1972. Aquaculture possibilities in some islands of the South Pacific. Report prepared for the South Pacific Islands Fisheries Development Programme. FAO/DP/RAS/69/102/12.

Table 1. Introduction of Tilapia species in Fiji.

Oreochromis mossambicusMalaysia1949Villaluz, 1972; Uwate et al., 1984
O. mossambicusMalaysia1954Holmes, 1954; van Pel, 1955
O. niloticusIsrael1968Lewis and Pring, 1986
O. niloticusIsrael1979Uwate et al., 1984
Red TilapiaTaiwan1981Sec Foo Fong (pers. commun. 1990)
O. aureaTaiwan1985Lewis and Pring, 1986
O. hornorumTaiwan1985Lewis and Pring, 1986
O. niloticusThailand1988SPADP/FAO, File: FIJ/6, 1988

Table 2. Number of fishfarms, total surface area under cultivation and estimated yields in Fiji from 1983 to 1989.

YearNo. of Fishfarms in OperationTotal Area
Estimated Harvest (kg)
198315   4,903  610
198418   4,625  630
198525   9,0501,180
198629  13,0401,610
198725  12,1261,760

* Estimated

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