A Market-Driven, Social Ecological Approach to Planning for Tilapia Aquaculture Development in Fiji by Barry A. Costa-Pierce: A Study funded in part by the Peace Corps

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A Market-Driven, Social Ecological Approach to Planning for Tilapia Aquaculture Development in Fiji by Barry A. Costa-Pierce: A Study funded in part by the Peace Corps

A Market-Driven, Social Ecological Approach to Planning for Tilapia Aquaculture Development in Fiji by Barry A. Costa-Pierce: A Study funded in part by the Peace Corps

A Market-Driven, Social Ecological Approach to Planning for Tilapia Aquaculture Development in Fiji
Barry A. Costa-Pierce
Department of Environmental Analysis and Design
School of Social Ecology
University of California
Irvine, CA 92697-7070


A "market-driven technology approach" was used to examine options for the development of tilapia aquaculture in Fiji. Domestic fish markets were investigated using a market survey instrument to structure interviews with 23 seafood buyers in Suva and surrounding areas, and results were used to make recommendations for a technology development program.

Tilapia are the most frequently targeted species for the rural poor fishing rivers and estuaries in Fiji, and have a similar size and appearance to five of the most preferred coral reef fish ("kabatia", "ki", "kake", "kanace", "senikawakawa"). Twenty-two percent of 1,734 village fishing trips targeted tilapia. Fijians prefer fresh fish (58% of those surveyed), and mean weights of fish served at meals were small (range 29-815 grams).

Domestic market survey on Viti Levu showed a current shortfall for five small reef fish of a similar size and appearance to tilapia of 145-333 tons per year. There was a significant seasonality of market volumes (p<0.05), with less fish marketed during the "cyclone season" (Jan.-March). There was no significant seasonality in fish prices in the markets studied (p>0.05). Secondary data gathered from the Fiji Fisheries Department showed a decline of these five reef fish of 526.7 tons, and fish price increases from 20-44% per year from 1987 to 1995.

A three-step tilapia aquaculture development plan was recommended for consideration of government subsidies for the period from 1998-2006 that would: (1) target replacement of the current shortfall in reef fish supply, in order to substitute tilapia for the shortfall in fish for the rural poor. Emphasis will be on methods to enhance market opportunities for the existing rural production sector by offering market incentives to stimulate fish sales and generate supplemental cash income. Establishment of permanent roadside market stalls in the areas of highest fish production is one example. (2) Subsidize development and operational costs of a single, medium-scale (15-20 ha) commercial tilapia farm that would produce fresh fillets for the domestic hotel/tourist industry, and to develop this business as a partnership with a coral reef conservation effort. (3) Subsidize costs for a small number (5-10) of medium scale (2-5 ha) farms that will produce fresh fish for the domestic market (shortfall estimated at 2,655 tons by 2006), and to invest in the concept of using inland aquaculture development to relieve fishing pressure on coral reefs.


The tilapias have been exported from their native ranges in Subsaharan Africa to Asia and onwards throughout the tropical world from the World War II period until the mid-1970ís. Tilapia were sent not only for aquaculture development but also for aquatic weed and insect control purposes (Costa-Pierce and Doyle 1997). This "tilapia craze" is similar to the "carp craze" of the 19th century when biologists and fisheries managers seeded the worldís aquatic ecosystems with exotic species in an attempt to improve them (Cowx 1997). The most widely distributed and established tilapia was the Mozambique tilapia (Oreochromis mossambicus) (Pullin and Lowe-McConnell 1982). O. mossambicus is native to the eastward flowing rivers of southern Africa from the Shire River in Malawi to nearly the tip of the continent in South Africa (Trewavas 1983). The exact origin of O. mossambicus exported from Africa throughout the world is unknown, but likely came from the northern part of this range (Agustin et al. 1997).

For many years O. mossambicus was known worldwide as the "Java tilapia". It acquired this name because a founder stock was taken from coastal ponds in Java to a fisheries station in Malacca, Malaysia (then Malaya), then was exported from Malaysia throughout the world. How and when the tilapia got from Africa to Java is a mystery, but the fish was likely an escapee, or a purposeful "dumping" into the environment by an aquarist.

Since O. mossambicus was taken from an unknown number of parents and was seeded around the world for decades with no attention to genetic issues the stocks have deteriorated almost everywhere the fish has escaped. Agustin et al. (1997) found a low amount of genetic diversity of feral population compared to wild fish and explained this by reductions in founder population sizes by successive, small introductions resulting in genetic bottlenecks. As a result, small sized, poor quality O. mossambicus lost consumer acceptance, became pests, and acquired a reputation as "trash fish" in many countries (Pullin 1985). O. mossambicus also impacted negatively many native aquatic ecosystems due to its aggressive, changeable, and non-specific feeding habits, its wide salinity and water quality tolerances, and its precocious breeding behavior which allowed it to overpopulate many aquatic environments and outcompete native fish. In some locales the fish, which is known from the wild as feeding on algae and detritus (Bowen 1987), became a predator (on milkfish fry in Kiribati, Lobel 1980). As a result of these undesirable traits, the Mozambique tilapia has been replaced in nearly all of the major tilapia farming countries by the Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus). The global consensus that the Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus) is the best species for aquaculture development is due to at least three important commercial characteristics: {1} its faster growth rate to larger maximum sizes than other species; {2} its larger size at first reproduction; and {3} its grazing feeding habits and lower trophic position on the aquatic food web. These characteristics make the Nile tilapia more productive, cheaper to grow, and having less environmental impact than the Mozambique tilapia.

However, O. mossambicus is not everywhere a pest. In the impoverished Asian nations of post-WW II (esp. Indonesia), the fish has been thought to have saved millions of poor people from starvation and protein malnorishment. In modern Sri Lanka and Indonesia the Mozambique tilapia is a prized protein source for the rural poor (DeSilva and Senaratne 1988). And in California, the Mozambique tilapia is grown profitably in intensive farms due to regulations prohibiting importation of the preferred Nile tilapia. It may be premature to label the Mozambique tilapia as inferior to the Nile tilapia for aquaculture development. Wild stocks perform well and show a wide genetic diversity (Agustin et al. 1997), and with proper importations and genetic improvement programs using superior founder stocks the fish can perform well in culture. In California, USA, the Mozambique tilapia has growth rates and yields equal to or better than studies reported for Nile tilapia (Costa-Pierce 1997).

The Mozambique tilapia in Fiji

The Mozambique tilapia were first introduced to Fiji in the late 1940ís from an unknown source. They were introduced again in the mid-1950ís, for a human food source and as an alternative protein source for pig rearing (Holmes 1954). O. mossambicus is called "maleya" by the local people in Fiji representing their origin in colonial Malaysia (Malaya). All tilapia stocks imported to Fiji since the mid-1960ís have been made with the purpose of developing the potential of tilapia aquaculture. O. mossambicus were stocked during the colonial era into the Singatoka, Rewa and Navua Rivers on Viti Levu, and into rivers on Vanua Levu (Table 1).

Table 1. Recorded introductions of tilapias to Fiji

Species Country of Origin Year of Introduction
O. mossambicus Unknown Unknown, Late 1940ís
O. mossambicus Malaysia 1954
O. niloticus Malaysia ("Israeli") Late 1960ís/Early 1970ís
O. urolepis hornorum Taiwan 1980-86
O. aureus Taiwan 1980-86
O. niloticus Israel 1979
O. niloticus Thailand ("Chitrilada") 1988
O. niloticus Israel ("ND59") 1997
Sources: Holmes (1954); Rawlinson et al. (1996); S. Lal, personal communications.

Fiji has large rivers and abundant water resources. It is surprising to see a relatively small island like Viti Levu with a total area of only 10,429 km2 having a number of "continental-size" rivers as long as 260 km and over 200 m wide. As a result, the Mozambique tilapia has flourished in the wild in Fiji, and there is a vibrant and important artisanal river fishery. In addition, the Nile tilapia are stocked in rivers by the Fiji Fisheries Department (FFD). In 1997, the FFD plans to stock about 76,000 tilapia (19,000/quarter) into rivers (Lal, personal communication 1997). There are no studies on results of interactions of the Nile and Mozambique tilapias in Fijian rivers.

Since tilapia have been in Fiji for so long, local people have become accustomed to its taste and appearance (Richards et al 1994), and tilapia are one of the most important protein sources for the rural people (along with "kai", freshwater mussels [Batissa violacea]). The importance of tilapia river fisheries to people of Viti Levu has been documented as part of a larger survey of rural subsistence and artisanal fisheries conducted by the FFD and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) (Rawlinson et al. 1996).

The United States Peace Corps Fiji has been assisting Fiji to develop rural aquaculture since 1982. In 1993, the first commercial tilapia farm was opened near Suva. The Government views aquaculture as a subsistence protein source for rural communities and an alternative cash crop to kava, coca, vanilla, etc. Tilapia aquaculture in rural areas is well established with a recorded 172 tilapia farms (Nile tilapia, O. niloticus). National production in 1996 was estimated at 122 tons, with smallholder farms producing 74 tons and a semi-commercial sector producing 48 tons, a substantial increase from 1995 when national production was estimated at 68 tons (FFD 1996). Gross value increased from F$ 204,000 in 1995 to F$ 366,000 in 1996 (US$ 1.40/F$1.00). Most tilapia aquaculture production is centered on Viti Levu in Naitasiri, Namosi, Ra and Tailevu provinces. In 1996, 18 new farms started including a government run commercial agriculture corporation (Viti Corp.) that opened with the intent of becoming an industry leader.

To support the growth of aquaculture, Fiji has adopted a new "Commodity Development Framework" (CDF). The CDF intends to assist development of a "fully fledged, export-driven agro-industry base" over a four year period from 1996 to 2000 (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, Forests and ALTA [MAFFA] 1996). Under the CDF, Government intends to invest F$ 2.75 million plus attract F$ 1.00 million in private sector money to establish a tilapia aquaculture industry that will produce 1,000 tons/year by 2000. The CDF will assist development of "10 new commercial farms on Viti Levu, 3 industrial size tilapia farms in Vanua Levu, and 2 industrial farms, each vertically integrated with feed mills and processing facilities". Development of aquaculture is expected to save Fiji F$ 22 million in imports over the period from 1996 to 2000.

The objective of this study was assess the current and project future demands (volume and price) for domestically produced tilapia, and to make recommendations for technological and development needs based upon market information.

Materials and Methods

A fish marketing survey instrument was designed that was modified from McCoy and Hopkins (1978). Interviews with sellers focused on (a) the amount of coral reef fish in domestic markets, (b) seasonality of market volume and price, and (c) price-size relationships of demand. In addition, secondary data were acquired from the Fiji Fisheries Department (FFD) in unpublished and internal reports detailing the market structure and additional fisheries marketing data on domestic volumes, prices, and seasonalities.

The survey instrument was discussed at a workshop of six Peace Corps and four Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forests and ALTA (MAFFA) staff, then was tested at the Suva Municipal Market, and finally revised for use. Interviews of fish sellers were conducted by eight staff from 17-25 July in Suva, Nabukalou Creek, Navua, Nausori areas of the Central Region of Viti Levu Island. Municipal markets, roadside stalls, grocers, butchers, and middlemen were interviewed. A total of 31 surveys were completed, comprising 17 fish producers/sellers, 8 butchers, 4 roadside stalls, and 2 "up market" fish stores.

Results and Discussion

Fiji domestic fish market structure

There was a dramatic change in the domestic marketing structure of seafood in Fiji from 1978 to 1995 (FFD 1996). In 1978, half of the seafoods sold in Fiji passed through municipal markets and the other half to "outlets" (butchers, supermarkets, roadside stalls, shops, hotels, restaurants, cafes, etc.). By 1995, only 13% of the seafoods were sold at municipal markets; 87% was marketed in the "outlets" (FFD 1996). The reasons for the change were increased taxes and rental rates on stalls in municipal marketplaces and the growing shortage of fish in coastal areas so that there was no longer any surplus fish to sell in municipal markets. All fish caught was reported to be "staying in the villages".

Fish consumption by Fijians

The majority of Fijians live in inland areas. As a consequence, inland capture fisheries are important sources of subsistence protein. Rawlinson et al. (1996) found that rivers and estuaries were the most important fishing areas on Viti Levu, and that Mozambique tilapia was the principal target species of 22% of 1,734 fishing trips monitored (Table 2). Over 80% of the inland people surveyed reported targeting Mozambique tilapia for their fishing efforts in estuarine and riverine areas (Rawlinson et al. 1996). Catching of tilapia in rivers for both subsistence and for sale was dominated by women. Women fishers caught tilapia rates as high as 12.7-13.9 kg/hour (Rawlinson et al. 1996).

Table 2. Frequency of targeted species by fishers on 1,734
fishing trips in rivers and estuaries in Viti Levu, Fiji.

Species targeted Number of fishing trips Percent of trips
Oreochromis mossambicus 384 22
Anguilla spp. 257 15
Kuhlia rupestris 173 10
Freshwater prawns 173 10
Lutjanus argentimaculatus 125 7
Eleotris melanosoma 136 8
Misc. Carangidae 58 3
Batissa violacea 45 3
Leiognathus equulus 37 2
Palaemon concinnus 34 2
37+ Other Species 312 18
Source: Rawlinson et al. (1996).

Fish are the most important animal protein sources for Fijians. Studies by Vuki (1991) and Zann (unpublished data cited in Rawlinson et al. 1994) indicated an annual per capita fish consumption rate of about 40 kg. FFD (1995) stated that the annual fish consumption rate was 50 kg per capita; however, FFD (1995) rates measured fish supply per capita, not rates of fish consumption.

Direct fish consumption of Fijians of all ethnic groups in villages at 613 village meals on Viti Levu was studied by Rawlinson et al. (1996). Actual rates of fish consumed averaged 68.2 kg/capita/year. This per capita fish consumption rate equals the highest reported in the world, the Japanese, who are reported to consume 68-70 kg/capita/year (New 1997). A strong weekly pattern in fish consumption exists on Vitu Levu. Rawlinson et al. (1994) measured rates exceeding 1.52 kg/person/meal/day, with a high on a Sunday in one village of 2.8 kg/person/meal/day (Figure 1). The weekly pattern of fish consumption was a repeatable trend in their data, with highest rates of fish consumption always on Sundays. Sundays are important religious holidays, and large family gatherings with generous amounts of fish are consumed on Sundays. Fishers reported fishing more actively on Fridays and Saturdays to ensure that adequate quantities of fish were available on Sundays (Rawlinson et al. 1994).

Rawlinson et al. (1994) noted that their surveys showed fish supply per capita per year followed closely the estimates of Zann (41.2 versus 40 kg/capita/year reported by Zann). As a result, Rawlinson et al. (1994) estimated a gap between fish supply and fish consumption on Viti Levu at 27 kg/capita/year (68.2-41.2 kg/capita/year). They stated that contrary to widely-held opinions that Fijians are self-sufficient in rural fish supplies that villagers were purchasing this fish from markets to make up for the shortfall from their own subsistence catches. While fish purchases are not as important quantitatively as their own catches, it was surprising to see a large amount fish being bought by the average rural person.

Fish preferences by Fijian ethnic groups

Rawlinson et al. (1996) measured the forms of fish eaten at 943 meals on Viti Levu and found that fresh fish were consumed at 549 of these (58%) (Table 3). Fijian consumers preferred fresh fish, especially reef fish. The importance of tinned (canned) fish increased inland. Important reef fish species identified as preferred by the Fijian (and Indian) consumers were:

* "kabatia" (snappers, Lethrinidae),
* "kake" (snappers, Lutjanidae),
* "ki" (small goatfish, Mullidae),
* "senekawakawa" (small groupers, Serranidae), and
* "kanace" (mullet, Mugilidae).

Table 3. Preference of form of fish eaten at 943
village meals in Viti Levu, Fiji.

Form of Fish Eaten Number of Meals Percent Total
Donít Eat Fish 330 35
Fresh Fish 549

Tinned Fish 60

Totals 943 10
Source: Rawlinson et al. (1996).

Sizes of reef fish consumed by rural Fijians were small, ranging from 60 to 815 grams average weight; but most of the preferred species were as small as 100-300 grams (Table 4). During market surveys we witnessed piles of fish labeled "small fish" which were reef fish of 100-300 grams average weight being sold at F$ 4 per kg. These reef fish are the approximate size of tilapia harvested from ponds at the present time in Fiji, and some of them resembled tilapia quite strongly in terms of size and color.

Table 4. Preference for size of reef fish eaten in
two coastal villages in Viti Levu, Fiji.

Species of Fish Common Names Weighs at Meals

(wet weights, g)
Lethrinus harak Thumbprint Emperor 141-261
L. mahsena Yellowtailed Emperor

Small Mullidae Goatfishes

Epinephelus spp. Groupers 86-131
Mugil spp. Sea Mullets 60-70
Gerres spp. Silver Body 75-100
Hemirhamphus spp. Barred Garfish 49-421
Lutjanus spp. Snappers 61-207
Source: Rawlinson et al. (1996)

Indian consumers comprised two groups, Hindus and Muslims. Vegetarian Hindus, estimated to be about 20% of the Indian population in one interview, do not eat any fish or animal meat products. Muslims were said to prefer fish that does not have a strong odor or fishy (oily) taste. The small Chinese and Southeast Asian population has a preference for red fish and for live fish. The preferred fish for Chinese was said to be "donu" (coral trout, Plectroponus sp.). A Chinese seller has pioneered development of a live tilapia market in Suva. Market tests with live tilapia have also been conducted by the FFD at Nausori and Suva (Lal 1991). Live fish were purchased by all ethnic groups. Indian and Chinese customers preferred plate-sized fish (250-300 grams), while no strong size preferences were noted for indigenous Fijians (Lal 1991).

Since tilapia have been in the country for so long all ethnic groups are familiar with tilapia and have become accustomed to its taste and appearance (Richards et al 1994). As a result, Fijians have quickly accepted a farmed tilapia. Richards et al. (1994) reported that "batches of 200-300 tilapia sell quickly in retail markets for approximately F$ 3.00-4.00 per kg, a price comparable or slightly higher than the price paid for several species of reef fish". They also reported that before 1989, tilapia sold in municipal markets did not exceed 6 tons per year, but this increased rapidly to 20 tons in 1990, then increased further to 72 tons in 1992.

Estimates of current fish demand

Data from 23 seller interviews is summarized in Table 5. Only 18 of the sellers responded to questions about sales changes over a one year period, and only 14 responded adequately about changes they had seen in volumes of fish over the past 5 years.

Table 5. Changes in fish volumes marketed in Viti Levu, Fiji from seller interviews in 1997.

Years in Business Species Sold Weekly Sales
(kg/week) Weekly Sales
(kg/week) Weekly Sales
(kg/week) 1-Year Volume Change (kg/week) 5-Year Volume Change (kg/week)
Number of Respondents 23 23 23 18 14 18 14

1-11 18-2,250 68-3,805 60-8,830 -852 to 77 -5,700 to 263
Median 5 5 1,253 1,368 2,039 -40 -100
Totals -2,790
(145 t) -6,409
(333 t)

Sellers had been in business a median of 5 years, but some had spent 20 years selling fish. Most sold 5 species of fish. Fourteen of the 18 sellers reported that their volume of sales had dropped in the last year, with a median loss of 40 kg/seller. Ten out of 14 reported decreases in the volume of fish sold over the past five years, with a median loss of 100 kg/seller. The total amount of fish was estimated to have declined by 2,790 kg/week for 18 sellers from 1996-97, or 6,409 kg/week for 14 sellers from 1992-97, or 145-333 tons/year (x 52 weeks).

Decreased volumes of fish sales could be due to a variety of factors such as change in the market structure away from the municipal Suva region (where the interviews were conducted) towards roadside stalls; a lack of fish supply due to resource constraints; or due to inaccurate survey data. A search for secondary data on fish volumes and prices was thereby undertaken to confirm/deny the seller interviews.

The Fiji Fisheries Department (FFD) has monitored fish volumes and prices in municipal and non-municipal markets since the mid-1980ís. Search of their computer database ("Walu") was accomplished to compile records on changes in fish volumes in both municipal and non-municipal markets and a representative roadside market, all in the Central Region of Viti Levu where the primary data were generated. Secondary data were gathered on five coral reef fish that resembled tilapia strongly both in appearance and size. It was hypothesized that because of the similar sizes and appearances of tilapia to the reef fish preferred by consumers, that changes in volumes of these fish could be an important indicator of the amount of tilapia that could be sold as a "replacement species" for reef fish.

Total fish sales showed no change over the 8-year period (4,710 tons in 1987 to 4,698 tons in 1995); however, large decreases in volumes of the most preferred reef fish species occurred (from 966 tons in 1987 to 439 tons in 1995; Table 6). Most fish (87%) were marketed in informal (e.g. roadsides) areas (Table 6).

Table 6. Market volume changes for all fish and selected reef fish species , 1987-95 (metric tons).

1987 Market 1987 Non-Market Total Available in 1987 1995 Market 1995 Non-Market Total Available in 1995 Total Change
Total All Fish 969.9 3,740.3 (79%) 4,710.2 590.2 4,108.1

4,698.3 -11.9
Total 5 Reef Species 172.9


965.9 91.1 348.1

439.2 -526.7
Notes: Data from 1987 and 1995 reports of the Fiji Fisheries Department on the "Walu" database and in their annual
reports. Five reef fish are: "kabatia" (Lethrinidae, small snappers); "kake" (Lutjanidae, small snappers);
"ki" (Mullidae, small goatfish); "kanace" (Mugilidae, small mullet); "senikawakawa" (Serranidae, small groupers).

Given the general order of magnitude agreement between primary and secondary data sources there is evidence to suggest that market volumes of reef fish have decreased in both municipal and non-municipal markets, possibly due to resource constraints. There is consensus that expanding reef fish capture fisheries is not an option on Viti Levu (FFD 1996, personal communication).

Seasonal variability of demand

Secondary data on the Fisheries Departmentís "Walu" database was organized to determine if any strong seasonality in the fish sold to markets in the Central region of Viti Levu was present. Monthly market volumes and fish prices at Nabukulau Creek (Suva), Laqere and Roadside markets were tabulated (Table 7). Data were reorganized into ranks by months 1 to 12 for the three markets from 1990 to 1995. There was a significant difference in ranks (Table 7). Month of lowest fish volume marketed was month 4 (April); 51% of all months of lowest sales (17 of 33 months) were the months 1-3 (January-March); and 75% of all months of lowest sales volumes was from January to June. The top month of sales volume was August. The period of largest volume was the months of 10-12 (October to December). During 69% of the 33 months listed the largest volumes sold was the period from July to December.

Table 7. Seasonality of fish volume changes in three markets on
Viti Levu, 1990-95.

Markets Month of HighestVolume (N1) Month of Lowest Volume (N2)
N Creek 12, 9, 9 9, 11, 12 3, 4, 1, 8, 1, 4
Laqere 10, 12, 6, 10 2, 1, 1, 1
Roadside 3, 10, 8, 11, 1, 2, 2, 1
Ranks P<0.05
Note: Significance determined by use of the Mann-Whitney U-test for two samples
of ranked observations, not paired (Sokal and Rohlf 1969). N1= 84, N2= 84.

The data suggest that lower quantities of fish are available in the three markets during the "cyclone season" from January-March/April. New fish farmers may be better off marketing their products during this period.


The mean of fish price in Fiji increased from $2.33 per kg in 1987 to F$ 3.75 in 1996 (Table 8). Fish prices increased from 20-44%/year for the 5 most preferred reef fish plus tilapia from 1987-96 (Table 8), with the exception of the increased availability of cheap, imported, frozen jack mackerel. This product was clearly the cheapest protein available on the market, selling at retail prices of F$ 1.69-1.90 per kg.

Table 8. Price changes over time for the most preferred reef fish, 1987-96 ($F/kg).

Species 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1993 1994 1995 1996 Change %/year
Lethrinidae 2.35 2.55 2.88 3.06 3.46 3.84 3.49 3.73 3.70 1.35 36
Serranidae 2.50 2.87 2.98 3.13 3.39 4.68 4.05 3.76 3.12 0.62 20
Lutjanidae 2.27 2.25 2.52 2.62 2.80 2.49 2.12 2.26 2.14 -0.13 -6
Mullidae 2.08 2.26 2.45 2.85 2.71 2.52 2.31 2.79 2.78 0.70 25
Mugilidae 2.35 2.48 2.77 3.30 3.81 4.08 3.92 4.39 4.17 1.82 44
Tilapia 2.18 2.38 2.23 2.92 ND 2.66 2.50 3.00 ND 0.82 27
Average All 2.33 2.58 2.93 3.28 3.73 3.61 3.34 3.61 3.75 1.42 38
Notes: There was no data taken in 1992. ND= no data available.

Price-size and price-season relationships

There was no strong price-size relationship of demand in the primary survey data (Figure 2), and in the secondary data obtained from the FFD. Price per kg of fish was very variable among the different sizes of fish being sold, and showed no clear trend. There was no significant relationship of fish price and season (Table 9). However, 63% of the months of highest fish prices occurred during the months of October to March when fish availability is lower.

Table 9. Seasonality of fish price changes in three markets in
Viti Levu, 1990-1995.

Month of Highest Price (N1) Month of Lowest Price (N2)
N Creek 4, 11, 8, 12, 5, 2 3, 8-9, 4, 9, 7, 1
Laqere 7, 12, 6, 10 2, 1, 1, 1
Roadside 11, 7, 1, 1 3, 8, 5, 6
Note: Significance determined by use of the Mann-Whitney U-test
for two samples of ranked observations, not paired
(Sokal and Rohlf 1969). N1= 84, N2= 84.

Estimated domestic demand for tilapia

Interviews with Fijian consumers and fisheries experts found that price is the most important determinant of demand. In fish markets, highest demands were for imported, low quality frozen jack mackerel imported from New Zealand at a very low price (F$ 1.50-1.90 retail in markets). Over 5,000 tons of mackerel was imported in 1995 (FFD 1995). Frozen mackerel is a strong smelling, oily fish distinct from the high quality reef and bottom fishes for which Fiji is famous. Consumers seem to be willing to sacrifice quality for price.

Fiji is the crossroads of the Pacific having an ethnically diverse population comprised of native Fijians, Indians, and "others" (East and Southeast Asians, Polynesians, mixed Europeans and other "mixed"). Since the military coups and political turmoil of 1987, there has been an accelerated immigration out of the country by Indians. By 1996, indigenous Fijians had become the largest population group. In the 1996 census Fiji had 772,655 persons (394,999 Fijians; 336,579 Indians; 41,077 "Others"), and population growth rates from 1986-96 for the various ethnic groups were: Fijians (1.8%), Indians (-0.4%), and "others" (0.9%). Over the last 10 years Fiji had an overall population growth rate of 0.8%.

It is assumed that current per capita fish consumption rates will not change much beyond the current (and very high) 68.2 kg/capita/year. Fijiís current population is 772,655 persons, giving a total seafood demand of 52,695 tons/year. 58% of the seafood eaten is fresh fish (Table 3), so current demand for this product form is 30,353 tons/year. Fijiís population growth rate has been 0.8% over the last ten years and if this were sustained, the population of Fji in the year 2006 would be 834,467 persons. Fresh fish demand would rise to 33,008 tons/year. The gap in availability of fresh fish would be 2,655 tons by 2006 (33,008-30,353) (Table 10).

Table 10. Forecast of future demands for fish in Fiji.

Year Population Total Fish

Fresh Fish Tinned

1996 772,655 52,695 30,353 3,162
2006 834,467

56,911 33,008 3,415
Gap 4,216 2,655 253
Note: Percentage of product forms taken from Table 3.

Fishery yields of the five reef fish similar to tilapia totaled 439 tons in 1995 (Table 6). Tilapia production was 122 tons in 1996, or 22% of this volume of coral reef fish. It is not unreasonable to assume that if tilapia could increase its market share from 22 to 50% of the reef fish demand (219 tons) by 2006 , it could contribute to the filling the estimated 145-333 tons of reef fish that is missing from domestic markets on Viti Levu (Table 7).

Tilapia retail prices

Market structure for tilapia is unorganized and informal at present. The majority of tilapia farmers are smallholders in rural areas who sell their fish fresh to villagers coming to previously announced harvest dates. In Suva, there is a live market for tilapia operated by a Chinese grower. In addition, fresh caught fish from the only large scale commercial grower (Viti Corp.) are being marketed whole on ice at $3.50 per kg and live at $5.50 per kg at an upscale fish retail store owned by an expatriate Australian. Retail prices for tilapia ranged widely, from F$ 2.50 at a village pond bank to F$ 5.50 for live fish at Chandrove Fish Store.

Value-added options

The survey team interviewed four small sellers (all women) at roadside markets who were selling small (approx. 150-250 gram) "kabatia" and "kawakawa" as whole fish, fried and smoked. These sellers mentioned that all of their fish was sold quickly in bundles of 7 fish for F$5 (equivalent to F$ 3.57 per kg assuming 200 gram fish). These sellers mentioned that the fish were available in abundance only during the period from June to August.

The fillet market is very small in Fiji and is not a viable option for any large market development oriented towards the domestic consumer at present. However, the hotel market for high quality, fresh, Fijian grown and filleted tilapia is attractive; could be used to promote the use of aquaculture as an alternative to coral reef fishing; and may be one way to "ease into the export market".

Use of tilapia as low cost fertilizer or feed

The growing of tilapia and its use and disposal as cheap agricultural fertilizer, or as pig feed is an idea that wonít quit (Holmes 1954; E. Stice, personal communication). From my view, this is an idealistic and outmoded idea which should be dispensed of altogether in any sort of planning for tilapia aquaculture development for Fiji, including in the planning for development programs for rural smallholder aquaculture farms, for a number of reasons.

Firstly, this idea was generated back in the 1950ís by Westerners (Holmes 1954) who viewed tilapia as rubbish available for "free" that could be recycled into something worthwhile (= pigs = meat). Tilapia are simply not very good pig food unless they are cooked, which now means they are not "free". In addition, it is questionable if any fish of any size are "waste", given the propensity of rural people in many fish-eating nations like Fiji to eat fish of any and all sizes.

Secondly, aquaculture of tilapia costs money and time of rural people everywhere. Any simple, "back of the envelope" calculation of economic or ecological efficiency would reveal that feeding table scraps (or even pig food!) is a more appropriate way of growing pigs rather than growing tilapia to feed pigs.

Thirdly, aquaculture development is attempting to improve the image of tilapia as high quality, fresh, and nutritious food for people, especially for people in protein short rural and inland areas, and high quality for export. Promotion of any extension efforts using tilapia as low quality food for animals defeats the very purpose of tilapia aquaculture development both in the rural smallholder and the commercial, industrial sectors. These comments are not meant to say that use of tilapia in integrated systems (like Monfort Boys Town) should not be encouraged. On the contrary, positioning of pigs and other animals above ponds to fertilize them directly with animal manures is a well-known pond management option that can grow high quality tilapia from a biotechnical viewpoint. However, it is questionable from a marketing standpoint if this practice would meet the cultural backgrounds and needs of consumers.


Most fish in Fiji is marketed through outlets, not in city/town centers, and the domestic market demand for tilapia is currently small. It is concluded that the current domestic production of 122 tons could be expanded by an additional 145-333 tons in the short term (1998-2006). There is less fish available in markets on Viti Levu during the months of January to March ("cyclone season"), and there was a of higher fish prices during this period trend (but not statistically significant). There was no strong price-size relationship of demand. Current prices for whole tilapia are in the range of the most preferred reef species (F$ 2.50-5.50/kg). Tilapia prices could not be increased much further unless resource constraints increase with the preferred reef fish species or a new period of economic prosperity occurs and people have more money to buy fish.


While Fiji has superb natural resources for growing tilapia, it is recommended that government develop a phased, three-step tilapia aquaculture development plan to:

(1) Emphasize domestic production sector by enhancing market opportunities for the existing rural production sector and offering market incentives to generate cash income from aquacultured fish. Establishment of permanent road side market stalls in the areas of highest fish production would be one method.

(2) Subsidize development and operational costs of a single medium scale (15-20 ha) commercial tilapia farm that would produce fresh fillets for the high end domestic hotel/tourist industry.

(3) Subsidize costs for a small number (5-10) of small scale (2-5 ha) commercial farms to meet the projected shortfall in supplies of coral reef fish and to develop the concept of using inland aquaculture development to relieve fishing pressure on the nationís internationally important coral reefs.

The focus of tilapia aquaculture development efforts should be on a "market-driven technology development" approach, not a "technology-driven approach to market development". As an example of this approach, this study indicates there may be market opportunities for tilapia aquaculture production systems during the "cyclone season" when volumes of the most preferred reef fish are less and prices possibly higher. A market-driven technology approach to industry development would also build a domestic production sector that channels aquaculture products to existing markets as replacement species for overfished reef species, and focuses on using aquaculture to meet social and ecological goals. A market-driven approach investigates further what the market demands, and provides those products to the markets and human needs, rather than producing products, then scurrying around to try and find markets that will take them!

Since the domestic market is small, Government extension efforts should be focused on the rural smallholder farmers and small scale commercial family farms in order to increase the social benefits of aquaculture among the inland poor and the indigenous Fijians. It is recommended that Fisheries Department officers obtain aquaculture farming systems and integrated participatory rural development training to evolve inland aquaculture as tied to environmental and conservation goals from the outset of its expansion. Peace Corps-Fiji and the Government have a viable rural aquaculture model that is meeting the goals of providing protein and additional income to the rural poor in inland areas of the country. The Monfort Boys Town is another model to emulate, but consumer resistance to eating fish from ponds fertilized with manure should not be overlooked, among consideration of other important marketing factors in technology development. It is recommended government assist rural smallholders by developing a rural tilapia farmers association with well-publicized annual events (conference, dances, etc.), and organize rural aquafarmers cooperatives.

Because there were no strong price-size relationships of demand, and tilapia production costs are high, it is recommended that farmers continue to produce fish of the same size as present (150-250 grams) and resist consumer and buyer demands to produce larger fish. Under the current market and production circumstances, farmers will likely have difficulty profiting from fish production of fish larger than at present. In addition, consumers already are traditionally familiar with reef fish of a similar size and appearance to the tilapia currently produced.

The biggest constraint to rural aquaculture development is the availability and cost of transportation. It is recommended that Government establish small, roadside marketing stalls in strategic areas near to now present and the future growth centers of tilapia production (as has been developed for ginger). A model of these marketing stands and the management of these has already been established by the Suva Municipality at Nabukulau Creek (however, rental fees appear to be too high at Nabukulau Creek). There are truck carriers that come to the inland areas to transport agricultural produce. Fish could be transported in these carriers if a source of ice and sturdy plastic boxes with heavy lids were available. It is recommended that Government study the idea of subsidizing ice production and fish transport from the rural areas to newly constructed fish stands alongside the roadways nearby the growing centers of fish production. It may be possible that ice capacity available in the capture fisheries sector could be organized to assist the infant aquaculture industry. In addition, development of live fish and live-haul markets for tilapia, first in areas of concentrated Chinese and SE Asian consumers such as Nasori, should be an urgent priority due to the premium prices paid by these consumers.

The local hotel market for fresh, high quality, Fiji-grown filleted tilapia is one way to "ease into" the export market. It is recommended that Government connect Viti Corp. (or the new government-assisted farms) with the tourism sector to market a tilapia fillet product as an "organic" product with no chemicals, locally grown in Fiji, grown with mountain spring waters, etc.; and connect coral reef conservation objectives with aquaculture development in its international and local promotional efforts.

Fiji is well placed to be the center of aquaculture research and development for the entire South Pacific. The nation could earn significant revenues from marketing aquaculture goods and services, as well as become an important center of aquaculture production. Hawaii is a notable example in this regard. The State of Hawaii earns more income from its aquaculture research, contracting, consulting, and training sectors of the industry than its makes from its aquaculture production sector. As a modern, knowledge-based industry in its infancy in Fiji, aquaculture developments need long-term backup in information resources, and infrastructure in applied aquaculture research and development, not as much in production technology, but in innovative marketing, post-harvest methods, and ecological economics.


This study was funded by the Fijian Ministry of Forests, Fisheries and ALTA, the United States Peace Corps, and the United States Embassy, Suva, Fiji. Special thanks to U.S. Ambassador Don Gevirtz, Fiji Fisheries Director Maciu Lagibalavu, Peace Corps Director Eddie Stice, and Robert Delforce, Satya Lal, Jone Vesuca, Waisiki Gonemaituba, Amy San Pedro, Luke Manomaitis, Chris Stice, Robert, Sally, and Mr. Chung for their assistance in these studies.


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By lauren ( on Wednesday, October 29, 2008 - 5:23 am: Edit Post


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