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Opinion: Tambaqui could be Brazil's next tilapia

For native species to succeed though, producers must look to consumer trends.

Farmed fish production in Brazil centers around two large fish groups, tilapia and native fish, where the emphasis is on tambaqui.
In the last three years we have observed totally different behavior between the two.

Tilapia has seen consistent growth, above 10 percent a year, while the production of native fish is stagnant.
In 2018, tilapia accounted for 55.4 percent of the total of 722,000 metric tons of production, reaching a growth of around 12 percent in relation to 2017.

We are make this distinction for a better understanding of this sector in Brazil, because depending on how you look at it, analysis can arrive at very different conclusions.

The growth of tilapia is mainly due to the better productivity gains associated with the use of the lakes surrounding hydroelectric plants. Native fish, where production is concentrated in the states of the midwest and north, showed lower production rates, more extensive production systems in excavated ponds and little in the way of processing when presented to the consumer.

As a result, most of the production, which is destined for the north and northeast, ends up losing in terms of added value.

Different fish, different scenarios

We can see that these are totally different scenarios, but both suffer from the heavy hand of government in the regulatory processes, mainly in the disposal of federal waters and environmental licensing.

The lack of speed in scrutiny in the awarding of production permits and heavy bureaucracy are currently the main inhibiting factors for the development of aquaculture in some Brazilian states.

However, some localities in Brazil have clearer rules regarding environmental licensing, for example in the case of the state of Paraná, the country's largest producer of fish, with growth rates of around 20 percent per year.

Another important part of Paraná region's success is that most of its production takes place in excavated nurseries and not in federal waters, demonstrating very clearly that this governmental sluggishness interferes in our business.

Parallel to this, there is the consumer market, which is effectively the owner of our business, where the arduous task of raising the consumption of seafood in the country is at full speed. Tilapia has already reached the level of growth of 10 percent per year on the menu of Brazilians.

From native species, especially tambaqui, we need better products from this fish, of greater added value, that can provide the final consumer with a food of superior standard and easy preparation.

The production chain has been mobilized in this sense, concerned that it has to raise its game in the processing of the tambaqui and in the process increasing its presence in the daily consumption of the population, as has been achieved with tilapia.

On the one hand, we have the issue of government regulatory frameworks, which need rapid improvement, and on the other, we are committed to offering the population differentiated products, of superior standard at competitive prices and always focusing on the rise in consumption. After all, we have a consumer market of 210 million people to serve.

Francisco Medeiros is CEO of Brazilian industry trade body Peixe BR.

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