4 May 2014

Tanzania: Excitement As Marine Scientists Reveal New Tilapia Fish Can Be Bred

THERE is more good news for marine scientists in the country, following revelation that the newly discovered Mtera tilapia could be bred.

Speaking exclusively to the 'Sunday News,' the Tanzania Fisheries Research Institute (TAFIRI) Senior Research Scientist, Dr Benjamin Ngatunga, said that they have spoken with a number of organisations for funding.

"We have spoken with the World Fish Centre, among others and the signs are very positive. We plan on starting to breed first the Mtera tilapia and later other species," he said.

Dr Ngatunga said that once the funding has been sought TAFIRI together with the Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock will decide on the location of the premises for the breeding programme.

In January, this year, excitement rose among fish scientists and researchers after a species was discovered that has been dubbed the Mtera Tilapia that can exist both in fresh and salt water.

"Thanks to the Royal Society Africa Award, Tanzania and two United Kingdom universities have for the past three years been gathering data from freshwater lakes and one of our findings was the Mtera Tilapia and we feel this is a good candidate for further development," Dr Ngatunga said.

The findings that were released are from the Molecular Ecology of Fish project, after three years of collecting data in five valleys in Ruvuma, Nyasa, Rukwa, Ruaha and Rufiji that is being implemented by TAFIRI, the University of Bangor and the University of Bristol.

Dr Ngatunga said that Tanzania being the only country in Africa to border all the Great Lakes - Tanganyika, Nyasa and Victoria - was unique in that it has over 1000 fish species and of the 50 Tilapia species that exist in Africa, 26 are in Tanzania.

He cited that the country was blessed to have a different species in various inland lakes, rivers, dams, wetlands and therefore advocated that policy makers should make a point to encourage native tilapia to be bred in their regions.

"With more than 20 species present in the country, it beats my understanding why we are relying on the Nile Tilapia only to be bred.

The government can save time, costs and conserving biodiversity by encouraging this development to be done in the regions where these fish come from," he suggested.

The Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries Acting Director of Fisheries Development, Ms Mwanaidi Mlolwa, said that as a government that is driven by results from scientific research, they were keenly looking into the findings of the data collection and its applicability.

Ms Mlolwa said she had listened carefully to the findings of the data that had been reviewed and that she was impressed but more work by other experts needed to be done.

One of the principal investigators from the UK, Prof George Turner of the School of Biological Sciences from the Bangor University, who collected data on crater lakes fish and origins of new species, said that his excitement was beyond words.

Prof Turner said that the results were showing that new species were being formed from the splitting into two of old ones and they were happening in all seven crater lakes they had visited and sampled.

"I would suggest that there is a total ban on species introductions to be disseminated to all fisheries stations in the area, such that this biodiversity is reserved because it is a huge potential to unlock many more information," he said.

The professor said that these discoveries have come at the right time in that the technology is now available to quickly decipher data (with the data collected in the three years, it would have taken 760 years to decipher) and the technology is now a lot cheaper than five years ago.

The other Principal Investigator from the University of Bristol, Dr Martin Genner, said that his findings showed that biodiversity in the country was seriously underestimated largely because there are limited surveys and knowledge among academicians and researchers.

The Wildlife Conservation Society Country Director, Dr Tim Davenport, said that the findings were very engrossing, adding that to see the excitement of Prof Turner, an expert of many years was a clear indication that something interesting was boiling.

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