A highly infectious disease that could decimate the population of Tilapia, one of Kenya’s most popular fish, has broken out.
Experts from the Food and Agricultural Organisation said the disease has not reached Kenya, but has been confirmed in Egypt and should be taken seriously.
“Tilapia-producing countries need to be vigilant and follow aquatic animal-health code protocols of the World Organisation for Animal Health when trading tilapia,” FAO said yesterday through an alert from its Global Information and Early Warnings System.
Tilapia Lake Virus has now been confirmed in five countries on three continents — Colombia, Ecuador, Egypt, Israel and Thailand.
FAO said the disease is not a human health risk but can kill up to 90 per cent of infected fish.
“The disease shows highly variable mortality, with outbreaks in Thailand triggering the deaths of up to 90 per cent of stocks. Infected fish often show loss of appetite, slow movements, dermal lesions and ulcers, ocular abnormalities, and opacity of lens,” the statement said.
Secretary of the Kenya Veterinary Association Kenneth Wameyo said it was important for Kenya to be prepared against the disease.
“Kenya is a major producer and consumer of fish. The earlier we are aware and prepared the better,” he said.
Fish farming is a major activity in some parts of Kenya and employed about 29,300 people in 2013, the ministry of Agriculture said.
Total fishery and aquaculture production in 2013 was 186,700 tonnes — most of it from Lake Victoria.
Kenya also imports Tilapia from China to cover a deficit of 4,000 tonnes of fish in Kisumu alone, according to the National Assembly’s Fisheries committee.
Fish from China is imported by three companies — Alpha Foods, East Africa Sea Foods and Farmers Choice.
FAO wants countries importing tilapia to take appropriate risk-management measures — intensifying diagnostics testing, enforcing health certificates, deploying quarantine measures and developing contingency plans.
It is not currently known whether the disease can be transmitted via frozen tilapia products, but “it is likely that TiLV may have a wider distribution than is known today and its threat to tilapia farming at the global level is significant,” GIEWS said in its alert.
Viral diseases are the common causes of severe illness and death among fish.