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Tilapia breeder earns world-first fish health certification

Part of GenoMar's SPF certified facility in the Philippines. Photo: GenoMar.
Part of GenoMar's SPF certified facility in the Philippines. Photo: GenoMar.

Tilapia breeding specialist GenoMar has become the world’s first tilapia producer to be granted Specific Pathogen Free (SPF) status by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) of the Republic of Philippines.

GenoMar’s nucleus and grandparent site located at the Central Luzon State University in the Philippines, where GenoMar has been operating a tilapia breeding program since 1999, has received the SPF certification.

The genetically selected fish populations reared in the facility represent the hub for further multiplication and distribution to other tilapia farms in Asia and Latin America.

A technician operating a PCR machine that detects the presence of specific pathogens from fish tissue. Photo: GenoMar.
A technician operating a PCR machine that detects the presence of specific pathogens from fish tissue. Photo: GenoMar.

PCR analysis

The certification process started around three years ago and entailed frequent audits. Samples from the fish were collected and analysed by PCR following the guidelines set by the World Organisation for Animal Health (founded as OIE) to meet the standards for disease-freedom certification.

“Maintaining the highest level of tilapia health, welfare and biosecurity is a foremost priority for GenoMar and is an integrated part of our strategy,” said Thea Luz G. Pineda, GenoMar’s breeding manager for Asia Pacific.

Alejandro Tola Alvarez, chief executive of Norway-headquartered GenoMar Group, said: “We are extremely proud of this achievement and want to congratulate all our old and existing colleagues for having secured an excellent health status on this iconic facility over the years.”

Significant pathogens

The disease-free status covers the most significant viral pathogens in tilapia aquaculture worldwide: TiLV (Tilapia Lake Virus disease), VER (Viral Encephalopathy and Retinopathy, also known as VNN) and Megalocytovirus (Iridoviral disease).

GenoMar’s biosecurity and surveillance program and facilities will be regularly audited by the independent BFAR’s Aquatic Veterinary Services to maintain the SPF certification.

The GIFT that keeps giving

Tilapia is an important farmed fish. More than 6 million tonnes of farmed tilapia and other cichlids were harvested in 2020, and farming tilapia has become more efficient because of genetic selection.

The GenoMar-strain originates from the internationally collaborative selective breeding program, Genetically Improved Farmed Tilapia (GIFT), coordinated by Akvaforsk, Norway and established in Munoz, Philippines in 1988.

GenoMar was founded by Professor Øystein Lie and co-workers in 1996, with commercial focus on DNA-marker based parentage assisted breeding and traceability. The company was bought by German poultry and aquaculture breeding specialist EW Group in 2017. EW Group also owns salmon breeder AquaGen, which operates in Norway and Scotland.