Fear of Tilapia Lake Virus grips Rwanda forcing it to ban all imports of tilapia fingerlings

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  • The Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources has announced a temporary ban on the importation of tilapia fingerlings as a preventive measure against the virus.
  • The virus is already killing tilapia in Tanzania, Egypt, Ecuador and Colombia.
  • The virus infects both wild and aquaculture populations of tilapia, threatening the worldwide tilapia industry.

The fear of Tilapia Lake Virus (TiLV) currently wreaking havoc across the world has seen Rwanda decide to take drastic action in what has been informed by 'better safe than sorry' mantra.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources has announced a temporary ban on the importation of tilapia fingerlings as a preventive measure against the virus which is already killing tilapia in Tanzania, Egypt, Ecuador and Colombia.

“All fish farmers should adopt preventive measures by stopping to plant fingerlings from anywhere; not exchange their fishery and fish farming equipment; take care of their ponds and be attentive to the strange symptoms which may occur to their fish.” a statement from the ministry read.

Mathilde Mukasekuru, a fish specialist at the ministry, says Rwanda imports most of its fingerlings from China and Uganda, countries now on high risk of getting the disease.

"We cannot say the specific time the virus will end, but we have to prevent it from spreading here, working together with fish farmers," she said, The East African reported.

Importers of other species of fingerlings will now require permission from the ministry.

TiLV is an emerging infectious agent that has recently been identified in diseased tilapia on three continents from Colombia, Egypt to Thailand.

The virus infects both wild and aquaculture populations of tilapia, and presents symptoms of skin congestion and erosion, discoloration, abnormal behaviour, lethargy, loss of appetite, pallor, anaemia, exophthalmia and abdominal swelling.

The virus now threatens the worldwide tilapia industry. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), global production of tilapia is estimated at 6.4 million metric tons (MMT), with the top three producers as of 2015 being the People’s Republic of China (1.78 MMT), Indonesia (1.12 MMT) and Egypt (0.88 MMT) (FAO 2017a). Bangladesh, Vietnam and the Philippines are other leading producers (FAO 2017a).

In 2018-2019, Rwanda produced 31,465 tonnes of fish and is targeting 112,000 tonnes by 2024, to reduce imports from China and other countries, which sometimes don't meet the desired quality, according to the Agriculture ministry.

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