Only few tilapia are processed and most of the produce is sold fresh, whole. When raw material arrives at the processing plant the fish are first graded, sorting out any bad fish. In all product lines the first processing step is the gutting and gilling of the fish. After this step some fish are frozen whole, while most are filleted and then frozen. Products are then packed according to the specifications of the buyer and stored in a large cold storage. Almost all of the processed tilapia is produced for domestic retailers and wholesalers, and only a very small percentage is exported.
Only three processing plants are accredited to export tilapia to the EU. This small number can be explained by the very small size of the present exports. Philippine tilapia is rather uncompetitive in the international market since countries like Vietnam, Thailand and China are able to produce at much lower costs compared to Filipino producers. Additionally few traceability and quality control systems are in place in most farms, making it hard to export these products to more demanding international markets. Last, Filipino producers prefer a quicker turnover by producing smaller sizes that are preferred in the domestic market (200 – 300 gram) compared to the bigger sizes (500 – 1000 gram) that are preferred by the international markets.