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The world population is growing, as is the demand for aquatic food products. Production from capture fisheries at a global level is levelling off and most of the main fishing areas have reached their maximum potential. Aquaculture and culture-based fisheries appear to have strong potential to meet the increasing demands for aquatic products in most regions of the world. Potential contributions from these sectors to local food security and livelihoods are highly significant, especially in many remote and resource-poor rural areas. The challenge is to develop approaches to manage responsibly capture fisheries and to increase the contribution of aquaculture and culture-based fisheries, which are realistic and achievable, within the context of current social, economic, environmental and political circumstances. Such approaches should not focus only on increasing production; they should also focus on producing a product which is affordable, acceptable and accessible to all sectors of society.

Native to Africa, tilapias are an important group of fish because of their contribution to food supplies in many areas of the world. Some members of this group have been improved genetically through research and selection, while others have lost genetic diversity through poor fishery and farm management and therefore have much lower values as farmed or wild populations. While there has been a significant increase in global tilapia production over the past two decades, there also exist controversies concerning possible environmental and biodiversity damage caused by introductions of tilapia. It is important to understand both the negative and positive impacts of this group of fish.

This paper presents a broad analysis of the overall contribution that tilapias have made and their impacts in Asia and the Pacific. We believe it will be a good reference point to which additional information and insight can be added and we welcome such additions, whether in agreement or disagreement with what is presented here. Our ultimate goals are to help increase the quality of life for rural populations and conserve the aquatic environment. The responsible use of alien species such as tilapias will help in the attainment of these goals.

We acknowledge Dr Simon Funge-Smith (FAO), Professor Mohamed Shariff (Malaysia), Mr Athula Seneviratne and Mr Nalaka Siriwardena (Sri Lanka) for providing photographs for the use in this manuscript. We thank Ms Sylviane Borghesi for the page layout and graphic design.

Sena S. De Silva
Rohana P. Subasinghe
Devin M. Bartley
Alan Lowther

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