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SafeFish: Improving Tilapia Health to Optimize Yields

SafeFish: Improving Tilapia Health to Optimize Yields

Project Lead(s)
Dr. Susan Damanka
Senior Research Fellow
Project Background 

The fisheries sector contributes significantly to the Sustainable Development Goal: #14 (SDG-14) that emphasizes the need for countries’ support in restoration of fish stocks to improve safe and diversified healthy diets. Aquaculture has therefore become one of the fastest growing agro sector in the world and aids in the production of quality fish which provides nutritional, commercial, ecological and societal benefits to many countries including Ghana. Fish disease problems however, remain the largest single cause of economic losses in aquaculture.  

Fish health and management has not being fully exploited and understood for sustainable production. Infectious disease control remains one of the challenges to fish farming within our setting. Most aquaculture farmers in Ghana are purported to have fish mortality as high as 75-85 percent after stocking with fingerlings (< 5 g).  

Use of antibiotics in animal production systems has been associated with drug residues in the animal products as well as development of drug resistant bacterial strains, which may spill into the human population. Alternatives to antibiotic use exist but are not widely applied in the African setting. Biological agents such as “Bacteriophages” (tiny antimicrobial entities that ‘eat up bacteria’) can be used as disease-control agents. These bacteriophages are cheaper and safer compared to conventional antimicrobial drugs use. 

Objectives/Research Areas 

This study aims to develop different formulations of bacteriophage cocktails as disease biocontrol agents for improved aquaculture productivity, food and nutrition safety in Ghana and Uganda. Specifically, this study seeks to i) determine the microbial safety and quality of the inputs and outputs of the fish farms by identifying and enumerating the pathogenic and spoilage bacteria ii) establish local host cell banks for production strains and seed banks for bacteriophages isolated against the most common and economically significant fish bacterial pathogens and iii) formulate bacteriophage cocktail products and evaluate their effectiveness through laboratory scale challenge experiments with known pathogens and tilapia larvae/matured fish. The project goal is to develop bacteriophage (phage) products for integrated fish disease management and minimize antibiotic use in animal production systems through actualizing phage applications on the continent. 

Key Findings 

The expected benefits of this research include (i) mapping the temporal and spatial distribution of bacterial pathogens of economic importance for farmed tilapia in Ghana (ii) establishing drug susceptibility patterns of local fish bacterial isolates (iii) establishing production practices influencing occurrence of bacterial fish diseases (iv) establishing local banks of fish pathogen specific bacteriophages (v) creation of awareness for the fish disease bio-control agents as well as increasing capacity in research and development of phage technology in Africa. 


Key Publications  

Nakavuma J,  Walakira J, Wamala S, Kamya D, Alafi S, Nalweyiso M, Mugasa CM, Mayanja M, Agbemafle E, Mensah DLN, Agbeko E, Okyere I, Damanka SA, Clokie M. Building capacity for phage applications in management of livestock production diseases: AU-project on Tilapia disease management on aquaculture farms in Ghana and Uganda. August 2019. DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.2.12005.35046 

Mr Frederick Asamoah - Principal Technician
Principal Technologist
Internal Collaborator(s) 
CSIR-Food Research Institute
CSIR-Water Research Institute
Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, University of Cape Coast
External Collaborator(s) 
College of Veterinary Medicine, Animal Resources and Biosecurity, Makerere University, Uganda
National Research Organisation (NARO), National Fisheries Resources Research Institute (NAFIRRI), Uganda
Department of Infection, Immunity & Inflammation, University of Leicester, UK
Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, Ghana
Makarere University, Uganda
African Union
European Union