A new virus that has caused mortalities in farmed fish populations in Ecuador and Israel has now been detected on fish farms in Egypt, according to a new report from the University of Stirling and WorldFish.
Scientists are now trying to establish a firm link between the virus and a recent surge in mortalities in Egyptian farmed tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus).
Tilapia Lake Virus (TiLV) has the potential to be a global threat to the tilapia fish farming industry, worth an estimated $7.5bn per year.
Tilapia is an important species for aquaculture because it can be grown in diverse farming systems and requires minimal fishmeal in its feed. It has a naturally high tolerance to variable water quality and can grow in both freshwater and marine environments.
It is also important in developing world contexts as it is inexpensive for small-scale farmers to grow for food, nutrition and income.
In the last five to six years, Egypt has seen an increase in mortalities of farmed tilapia populations in the summer months as water temperatures rise.
Surveys indicate 37% of fish farms were affected by these mortalities in 2015 with a potential economic impact of around $100 million to the wider value chain and economy.
Identifying the cause of and preventing these deaths is of significant importance in Egypt, which relies on domestic aquaculture for 60% of fish consumed. Farmed tilapia makes up 75% of that production.
Dr Michael Phillips, Director of Science and Aquaculture, WorldFish said: “Tilapia were previously considered to have good disease resistance. While the report and the emergence of TiLV will not dent the species’ dominance in global aquaculture, it is a sign that greater efforts will have to be made to ensure tilapia’s hardy reputation.”
Tissue samples from seven farms affected by ‘summer mortality’ were tested at the University of Stirling’s Institute of Aquaculture for TiLV. Three of the seven samples tested positive for the virus.
Stirling virologist Professor Manfred Weidmann said: “Globally, there is no aquaculture system that is free from the risk of disease. Unless we are able to manage disease, minimize its impact, and bring down the prevalence and incidence of diseases we will not be able to meet future demand for fish.”
Scientists from the University of Stirling and WorldFish will now work to establish whether TiLV is the primary cause of ‘summer mortality’.
In the short to mid-term, gaining a better understanding of the prevalence and spread of the virus, and its modes of infection will inform scientists and fish farmers of the best management and other practices to mitigate and control its impact.
The Institute is also working with other Egyptian partners, including Kafr El Sheik University and the Egyptian commercial tilapia farming sector on a project, funded by DFID Newton, looking into the modification of fish farm design and management practices to control fish diseases.