Improving Biosecurity: A Science-Based Approach to Manage Fish Disease Risks and Increase the Socioeconomic Contribution of the Nigerian Catfish and Tilapia Industries

Field testing value chain assessment tool
Submitted by Sunil Siriwardena/WorldFish

Nigeria is now one of Africa’s largest aquaculture producers with catfish (Clarias spp. and Heterobranchus spp.) and tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus) being the dominant farmed fish. Fish demand and aquaculture will grow substantially in the coming years, yet sustainable aquaculture growth requires that various constraints to the sector are addressed, including aquatic animal disease and indiscriminate chemicals/drugs use, and associated food safety and antimicrobial resistance concerns. The goal of the project is therefore to improve aquatic animal biosecurity and health management in the Nigerian aquaculture sector, using a science-based approach with cutting-edge scientific and digital tools.

The project has five research objectives: 

  1. To understand epidemiology and health economics of catfish and tilapia aquaculture in Ogun and Delta states, Nigeria
  2. To understand health status of catfish and tilapia in a regional model by employing presumptive field and modern laboratory diagnostics
  3. To identify pathogens of economic significance circulating in Nigerian catfish and tilapia aquaculture using whole genome sequencing
  4. To develop better management practices (BMPs) and build capacity to reduce risks of disease outbreaks in catfish and tilapia aquaculture in Nigeria
  5. To develop science-based policies and strategies for reducing fish disease risks in Nigerian aquaculture for longer-term development beyond the 3 years of the project

The project outputs are

  1. Risk factors for disease emergence, outbreaks and spread including seasonality issues with respect to environmental and climate change associated risks identified
  2. Endemic, emerging and exotic pathogens prevalent in Nigeria aquaculture sector identified and economic impacts quantified
  3. Whole genomes of key pathogens isolated from farming systems and seed supply networks sequenced by next generation sequencing
  4. Health management interventions for fish farming systems and fish seed supply chains that reduce fish disease risks, in the form of “BMPs” and capacity-building activities tailored to the needs of various stakeholders developed and implemented
  5. Our research findings and capacity-development activities will feed to support development and operationalization of a simple and practical national aquatic animal health and biosecurity strategy for implementation by the national competent authorities (CA).

Project outputs could lead to several outcomes. Productivity outcomes could include decreased disease-related losses and increased profitability from catfish and tilapia farming; in terms of risk mitigation, outcomes could include increased resilience to aquatic animal diseases and improved food safety; socioeconomic outcomes could include behavior and policy change and institutional strengthening. Uptake of the project outputs by the national partners and CA and implementation of national strategy by the CA will bring about policy level changes contributing to improved environmental performance of catfish and tilapia farming systems in Nigeria. In addition, such a national biosecurity governance strategy will encourage private and public sector to make the right kind of investments for disease management in aquaculture (e.g. diagnostics, surveillance, emergency preparedness, biosecurity, import/export guidelines including quarantine) contributing to a sustainable catfish and tilapia industry in Nigeria. This will also reduce dependence on chemicals and antibiotics by farmers thereby having a major bearing on antimicrobial resistance and food safety issues, and better ecosystem level outcomes. In terms of long-term impacts, this could translate to improved productivity, reduced disease risk, increased food safety and increased human wellbeing.