There are currently 1105 food-fish farmers registered with the Ministry of Agriculture but Manwaring and Romano (1990) identified only 562 active farmers. That number has declined since 1990. These farmers operate small holdings with an average surface area of 0.07 ha and initially cultured the Mozambique tilapia. Since the mid-1980s they have shifted to culturing mainly the Jamaica red tilapia, but operate, however, at a subsistence level. Today, the number of active food-fish farmers is thought to be even less that 100 but there is growing interest in the culture of the Nile tilapia.
The major commercial aquaculture project in the country was that operated by the state-owned Caroni (1975) Limited, a sugar producing company. Their aquaculture project consisted of a hatchery, outdoor concrete tanks and 9.5 ha of earthen ponds, ranging in size from 0.25 ha to 1 ha (Ramnarine and Batchasingh, 1994). This farm, however, was leased in mid 1999 to a private farmer, although Caroni (1975) Limited has retained control of the hatchery. The project was closed soon after and although there were attempts to lease the facilities to the private sector in 2005, this was not done and as such, the project remains closed. Another government-owned facility, the Bamboo Grove Fish Farm consists of a small hatchery and 2.4 ha of ponds. This was leased in 2002 and has been brought back into production. There are two other government institutions involved in aquaculture. The Institute of Marine Affairs has an aquaculture unit that consists of a hatchery/wet laboratory and nine small earthen ponds with a of total area 0.18 ha. The Sugarcane Feeds Centre has 13 ponds with a total area of 0.88 ha and a small hatchery. There is a privately owned project at Plum Mitan consisting of about 3 ha of ponds and another farm at Penal with 1 ha of ponds.
Most projects in the country use earthen ponds but there is a tank culture operation in central Trinidad that utilizes injected oxygen in their system. The status of this project is unknown. Caroni (1975) Limited and the Sugar Cane Feeds Centre also use concrete and metal tanks, but production from tank culture is limited. At the Bamboo Grove Fish Farm, there are four octagonal concrete tanks with a solids removal system. Each tank has a capacity of 100 cubic metres and intensive mixed-sex culture is being carried out in these tanks with encouraging results (Ramnarine, 2004).
The subsistence farmers practise mixed-sex culture while the Institute of Marine Affairs, the Sugarcane Feeds Centre practise monosex culture. Manual sexing is done by the Institute of Marine Affairs and the Sugarcane Feeds Centre while Bamboo Fish Farm uses hormonal sex reversal in addition to intensive mixed-sex culture. More recently, the Institute of Marine Affairs has acquired YY males and monosex production is done using this technology.
Caroni (1975) Limited used a 24 week grow-out period and the average yield per crop ranges between 2,000 to 4,000 kg per ha. A locally manufactured tilapia feed (sinking pellets, 25% crude protein) was used and costed $US0.38 per kg. A floating pellet is also available and costs $US0.60 per kg. The average size at harvest is 250 to 450 g and the average feed conversion ratio ranges between 2 : 1 to 4 : 1. The bulk of the fish was marketed fresh, chilled on ice, while some processing was also done by Caroni (1975) Limited. Whole fish was sold at approximately $US2.00 per kg while fillets are sold at $US3.00 per 450 g package. Tilapia that is currently produced is sold whole at $US 4.00 per kg representing a significant increase in price over the last 4 years.
Production of tilapia in the country increased yearly up to 1998 and this trend is shown in Figure 1. The bulk of production (about 70%) came from the state-owned Caroni (1975) Limited. However, since the production ponds of Caroni (1975) Limited were leased to private enterprise, no fish have been harvested. Production has declined in 1999 but began to increase slowly since 2003. Increased production is forecasted since new projects are being planned.
Figure 1. Tilapia production in Trinidad and Tobago (1996 – 2010).
The Government, through the Fisheries Division of the Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Marine Resources, had established three community-based tilapia farming projects at Point Coco, Barrackpore and Las Lomas prior to 2000, in an effort to again promote tilapia farming. Small earthen ponds are used and semi-intensive culture methods were employed. Sex-reversed Nile tilapia were cultured. These projects are no longer in operation except for Point Coco which has converted its operation to tank culture.