Tilapia - it what's served in every fish burger and fish and chips basket this side of Melchor - in fact, you probably eat a lot more tilapia than you know. And that's because tilapia breeds plentifully, is cheap and easily farmed.
But, tonight there's news that won't affect your fish burger, but it could affect the fish farm that made it.
That's because the Tilapia Lake Virus was recently detected in Mexican fish farms. So far, the disease hasn't come to Belize , but if it does, it could wipe out stocks at fish farms: the virus is known to cause death of up to 90% in farmed and wild Tilapia fish.
A BAHA advisory urges all fish farmers to step up Biosecurity measures at their farms.
Now, most important for you, BAHA stresses: "The disease does not pose a risk to public health and fish is safe to eat."
BAHA Warns Fish Farmers about Tilapia Lake Virus in Mexico
Tilapia Lake Virus is a relatively new fish disease. It was first detected in Israel in 2014 and then later spread to South America, Africa and Asia. The disease causes high mortality in young fish. Once a pond of young fish is infected, the virus is likely to decimate the entire fish population. And now that the disease has been detected in Mexico, there is high alert for Belize’s tilapia farms. The Belize Agricultural Health Authority is advising all fish farmers to heighten bio-security measures at their farms because once the virus infects their pond, it could mean massive losses and devastation for the tilapia farming industry. According to Doctor Miguel Depaz, the virus mainly affects is transmitted by live fish, contaminated water or objects from infected fish farms. Important to note, however, is that the disease does not pose a risk to public health and fish is safe to eat.
On the Phone: Dr. Miguel Depaz, Animal Health Director, BAHA
“We know that the disease causes high mortality in young fish which we call fingerlings. So, if you have an infected pond with fingerlings you could get up to ninety percent mortality, so it is a very virulent disease because once a pond gets infected and it is comprised of young fish, it will almost be destroyed totally. We know that the disease, however, does not affect humans and the fish is safe to eat. It is in six states of Mexico. And given that Mexico being a neighboring country, it puts us on high alert because we do have tilapia fish farmers in Belize. So, in essence, the advisory is for the farmers to be alert and implement biosecurity measures to keep away the disease. The disease is mainly transmitted by putting an infected fish into a pond with fish that are susceptible, mainly tilapia fish. And as you know, with this programme, the fish farmers would import brood stock and if the brood stock is infected then that is one way they could be bringing in the disease. So, we are educating the farmers not to buy fish for breeding purposes or fingerlings from farms that have had mortality. We know that the disease is not here in Belize, so we’re still sending out that message.”
“So, it could potentially wipe out our tilapia farming?”
On the Phone: Dr. Miguel Depaz
“Exactly, it could devastate the tilapia farming. We have had recent experience with the early mortality syndrome in shrimp and we don’t want this to happen to the tilapia fish farms.”
“Are there any signs of symptoms or signs that the fish would show if they are infected?”
On the Phone: Dr. Miguel Depaz
“Yes. It is a virus that affects the eyes and the brain and the liver. So, you would only see the brain and liver if you conduct a post-mortem but the eyes would become blurred. And in the late stages or severe stages, there is a rupture of the lens of the eye. And high mortality in young fish – ninety percent. You would find mass die off of fish in a pond of tilapia fish. There is another sign in which the fish would have red spots – hemorrhage of the skin of the fish. So, those are the signs big red spots on the skin and blurred eyes.”
BAHA says that it will remain vigilant at points of entry. The public is reminded that you need a valid BAHA Import Permit for the importation of animal and animal products, including fish. If fish farmers observe any mortality in fish, they are advised to notify BAHA immediately.
TILAPIA LAKE VIRUS (TiLV)
The Tilapia Lake Virus was recently detected in fish farms in six states of Mexico namely: Chiapas, Jalisco, Michoacan, Sinaloa, Tabasco and Veracruz. The disease was first detected since 2014 in Israel and subsequently in Ecuador, Colombia, Egypt, Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines and Peru. Up to today’s date the disease has not been detected in Belize.
The disease is caused by a virus named Tilapia Lake Virus. This new fish virus is known to cause death of up to 90% in farmed and wild Tilapia fish and is transmitted by the live tilapia fish, contaminated water or objects from infected fish farms. The disease mainly affects young tilapia fish.
The main organs affected are the eyes, brain and liver in Tilapia. Lesions includes blurred eyes and in advanced cases ruptured eyes. Other lesions may include large blood spots on the skin among others.The disease does not pose a risk to public health and fish is safe to eat.
All fish farmers are advised to heighten Biosecurity measures at their farms. In addition, they are advised not to move or purchase Tilapia fish and fingerlings from hatcheries that have reported fish death in their establishment.
BAHA will remain vigilant at its points of entry and takes this opportunity to remind the general public that a valid BAHA Import Permit is required for the importation of animal and animal products including fish and to notify BAHA of any mortality in fish.
The BAHA Veterinary Services can be contacted at: 824-4899/4872.