Aquaculture America 2021

August 11 - 14, 2021

San Antonio, Texas


Fitzsimmons, K.*
University of Arizona,  Department of Environmental Science
Tucson, Arizona

On a global scale, tilapia production has continued a steady increase in recent years up until 2020.  Due to the global covid pandemic and subsequent recession, production dropped severely in China and subsequently in other major producing countries. This was in part caused by hatchery and farm workers not being available to work due to lockdowns and transportation restrictions and in part by farmers and processors not risking production or processing with unknown demand. In fact, consumption dropped rapidly in many countries where tilapia was popular in the restaurant trade. Demand for live and fresh whole fish and fresh fillets dropped globally, starting with Chinese New Year and then dropping around the world as restaurants, cruise ships, and schools stopped purchases of fresh and frozen fish of all types.  

However, it must be noted that even though tilapia has become an international commodity with millions of tons of fish traded internationally, most tilapia consumption still occurs in the domestic markets of producing countries. Often, tilapia farmers and their neighbors are the single biggest consumers. This floor of demand held up as producers shifted sales into local markets consuming tilapia in place of imports no longer available.   

As the pandemic continued, the major importing countries reported increasing grocery sales of fresh and frozen fillets to be prepared for home consumption.  The mild flavor and smell of tilapia may have encouraged more consumers to select tilapia over fish with a reputation for leaving strong "cooked fish smells".  For the US markets, this led to recoveries in the imports of fresh fillets from Latin America and frozen fillets from Asian producers.   Imported tilapia from China to the US was still constricted due to the imposition of trade tariffs, but Chinese tilapia was somewhat replaced by imports from Indonesia and Latin America into US markets.

India had been showing a rapid increase in tilapia production prior to 2020, but this was stalled in 2020 as both domestic demand and export markets decreased.  Ecuador was reported to have reduced tilapia production, switching some production from tilapia back to shrimp. Egypt reported stable production with increasing production from the huge Egyptian-Chinese joint venture replacing some decreased production from smaller farms due to the pandemic. Brazil reported several new tilapia ventures supported by some of Brazil's agri-business giants but as none had come on-line by 2020, we expect that production probably decreased due to the severity of the covid pandemic in Brazil.

Overall, the best estimates suggest that global production may have decreased slightly, but was essentially stable.  There was severe market disruption in the early months of 2020 but recovery in the second half of the year.  The impacts going into 2021 are unclear as new restrictions related to the delta and other variants of the covid virus are still being felt globally.