Governance and Outlook — Seafish


Oreochromis / Sarotherodon / Tilapia spp.

Governance and Outlook


Governance systems play an important part in ensuring environmental sustainability, and whilst these have evolved rapidly with the growth of the industry, there are differences between regions and countries. Poor governance can result in industry stagnation, the spread of preventable diseases, environmental damage and opposition to aquaculture activities by local communities and other groups such as non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Key governance responsibilities are ensuring environmental assessment and decision-making processes are in place for sensitive freshwater and coastal ecosystems, which help deliver sustainable aquaculture whilst managing possible adverse impacts. Other regulatory and governance aspects should cover aspects such as water abstraction and discharge, health monitoring, and so forth.

Four principles – accountability, effectiveness and efficiency of governments, equity, and predictability of the rule of law – are necessary for effective aquaculture governance. These principles should guide the administration, legislative and regulatory framework of aquaculture. In addition to governments, other stakeholders such as communities, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and producers should also be involved in industry governance1.

Tilapia are grown in large number of countries, but production is concentrated in tropical and subtropical regions where temperature profiles allow year-round production, i.e. Asia-Pacific, the Americas and most parts of Africa.


Many countries in Asia-Pacific have made efforts to set up policies, administrative, legal and regulatory frameworks to develop and manage aquaculture. However, in some of the countries that have made conducive policies, implementation is delayed by the lack of financial and skilled human resources. Policies and regulations may be enacted, but unless there are sufficient government personnel with adequate skills and financial resources to monitor and enforce them, they will remain ineffective. Almost all countries in the region now require licensing to practice aquaculture. All commercial aquaculture establishments must undertake Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) or Initial Environmental Examinations (IEEs) and register with the authorities before starting to farm. As aquaculture governance has improved and production increased in the region, many products have found markets internationally.

Whilst regulations have been created or tightened, the most important development has been the increasing uptake of Best Management Practices (BMPs) and certification schemes. The use of independent third-party international certification schemes within tilapia aquaculture has been growing3, 4, 5; seeking to promote and instil responsible aquaculture practices in the industry via individual farm certification.

North America6

National and provincial/state governments in both Canada and the United States of America have articulated strategies for the development of aquaculture in North America, and governance systems are highly evolved. The thrust of aquaculture development in Canada is still toward environmental sustainability. In the United States of America, development is also geared toward sustainability with offshore expansion.

Latin America7 and Africa8, 9

As many wild fish stocks are already exploited at their maximum or have been overfished in Latin America and Africa, the significance and contribution of aquaculture in these regions will continue to grow. Significant amounts of tilapia are already grown in many African and Latin American countries.

It has been recognized that improved governance to facilitate aquaculture sustainability and development is now a high-ranking priority in these regions. Increasing market demand, availability of natural resources, the need to contribute to food security, as well as social and economic development, are strong incentives for producers, workers and public/private administrators to strive for a wider and more successful aquaculture industry; exchanging experiences and cooperating on complex problems. Steps are being taken to address this; for instance, the FAOs Blue Growth Initiative for Latin America and the Caribbean has been initiated to improve sustainable management of aquaculture (and fishery) resources10.

As in Asia-Pacific, the use of independent third-party international certification schemes in aquaculture has also been growing since 2010, driven by buyers in export markets. Such hybrid governance arrangements are becoming more prevalent in the management of natural resources, where third party certification and eco-labelling schemes are increasingly providing an incentive to achieve ecologically sustainable practices. These new actors have challenged state and market social mechanisms, giving companies an opportunity to self-regulate rather than rely on state-driven incentives11.


Tilapia production is expected to reach 7.5 million tonnes by 2030, i.e. double the quantity produced in 200812. Many countries see tilapia farming as a means of increasing domestic food security in the coming years, for example production has most recently spread to Pacific nations such as Papua New Guinea and Fiji13. However, future growth in export markets will be dependent on improvements in production systems, wider establishment of best-management practices, in order to improve the image of tilapia, its economic sustainability, and ensure that a more consistent quality product is available14. Potential dynamics in the main production regions are explored below.


Although Chinese tilapia production remains greater than in any other country, growth in its aquaculture industry is generally slowing15. The US is the single largest export market for tilapia globally, and Chinese tilapia particularly. However, the image of tilapia has suffered from bad media reports in recent years, and US demand has been stagnating. In the EU, the demand for tilapia has never ‘taken off’ in the same ways as in the US, and it has struggled to compete with other whitefish options16.

Profit margins in the Chinese tilapia industry have been low; feed and labour costs are on the rise, whilst appreciation of the yuan have resulted in lower international competitiveness for Chinese tilapia and undermine its position as a low-cost producer17. It is likely that Chinese tilapia production will aim more towards the domestic consumption thus creating opportunities for other tilapia producer countries to increase their global trade16, 17. Similarly, other producers in the region are paying more attention to domestic and regional markets, where less productive wild fisheries mean rising demand for cheaper farmed species such as tilapia16. Value-added fish products are becoming more popular on Asia-Pacific markets, driven by income growth, urbanisation and changing livestyles18. Large tilapia producers increasingly see premium tilapia (differentiated from the cheaper Chinese products on, for instance freshness, eco-labelling/certification, low-antibiotic use, convenience packaging, etc.) as a means to strengthen demand in the US and EU markets11 16, and there has recently been the certification of a number of Chinese farms under GAA BAP4 for example.

Indonesia, the second largest tilapia producing country, is expected to continue expanding its tilapia industry in the following decades. While the majority of production is directed to domestic consumption, a significant portion is exported as fillets to higher-paying markets, where it commands a premium price16.

Latin America and Africa

Latin American suppliers such as Colombia, Mexico and Honduras have recently increased their share in global tilapia production and exports. The locational advantages of South America, i.e. its proximity to the US market and access to feed ingredients and natural resources, place these countries in a good position for future growth17. A number of regional institutions actively support the development tilapia production. For instance, the Colombian Government and the National Commission of Aquaculture and Fisheries (CONAPESCA19) in Mexico have both invested in production and export developments, with the premium segment in the US by far the most important target market16.

Although having seen a recent increase in foreign direct investment20, 21, 22, the African tilapia production, dominated by Egypt, remains focused on domestic and regional markets. Expansion of the African tilapia industry is constrained by competition with cheaper tilapia products from China. For that reason, some countries in the region have banned Chinese tilapia imports.


  1. FAO
  2. FAO
  3. ASC
  4. GAA
  5. GG
  6. FAO
  7. FAO
  8. FAO
  9. FAO
  10. FAO
  11. Vince, J. and Haward, M., 2017. Hybrid governance of aquaculture: Opportunities and challenges. Journal of Environmental Management, 2017 p138-144
  12. World Bank
  13. SPC
  14. Seafood Source
  15. IBISWorld. 2018 Industry Report 0411. Fish Farming in China
  16. FAO
  17. seafoodSource
  18. Rabobank
  19. Conapesca
  20. Capital Business
  21. Undercurrent News
  22. Undercurrent News