Environmental discrimination in Aquaculture

The refusal by authorities to issue permits in parts of SA for the red Mozambique tilapia based purely on its skin colour is like a bizarre form of environmental segregation. It is unscientific and unfair.

Environmental discrimination in Aquaculture
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My previous article dealt with the chaos prevailing in government departments with the issuing of permits for the use of Nile tilapia (Orecochromis niloticus). Unfortunately it gets worse. Reports have recently surfaced of officials from the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT) in Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal threatening to prosecute producers farming the red colour form of our indigenous Mozambique tilapia (Oreochromis mossambicus).

Red Mozambique tilapia are fish that express no pigment in their skin – a condition called xanthic. Many animals (white lion, for example) and plants (white hairbells, the Dierama genus) can be xanthic. In humans, some people are either fully albino (with colourless eye retinas) or partially xanthic with blotches of white skin on an otherwise dark complexion.

Whether we are talking about humans, animals or plants, the xanthic forms are no different at a genetic species level from ‘normal’ or fully pigmented individuals.

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Mozambique tilapia, as with many other fish species, occasionally have xanthic forms. In the wild, these orange-coloured fish are weaker than normal-coloured ones and being brightly coloured, rarely escape predation. If they reproduce with normal coloured fish, the F1 offspring are of normal colour. If two xanthic fish breed together, some offspring might be naturally coloured, some orange and some halfway in between.

DNA examination shows no difference between xanthic and wild colour O. mossambicus at a species level. Therefore, any legal discrimination against red Mozambique tilapia is scientifically unsound and unjustified. As this species is highly sought-after due to its attractive colouring, it is hard to understand the reasoning behind the campaign against it by officials in terms of conservation.

Perhaps, as they may be incapable of distinguishing between different tilapia species, they’d would rather ban it in the belief that they are achieving something worthwhile for conservation. This ridiculous situation basically legislates the sector away from using its most attractive indigenous candidate species.

The hard facts

The fact is that O. mossambicus is an indigenous tilapia species. It has been approved for aquaculture by all provincial authorities, even in the Western Cape and Free State where it does not naturally occur.

A simple transport permit is required to move it between provinces, and I’ve yet to hear of one being refused except in highly sensitive conservation areas where no Mozambique tilapia, regardless of colour, are desirable. A refusal to issue permits for the red colour form of this species is an indication of an obstructive and negative attitude that prevails among some of our regulatory officials.

It also illustrates their ignorance of how fish survive, or fail to survive, in the natural environment of predator/prey relationships. Denial of such a permit cannot be justified.

Nile tilapia
It is also becoming apparent that Nile tilapia permits are being withheld in Limpopo. It is a matter of history that Nile tilapia have invaded the Limpopo catchment from the north. Nothing will change that. To deny bona fide farmers permits to use the improved strains of this species in such areas drives the illegal trade in these species underground, with devastating results to the environment.

Surely this is obvious?