Tilapia: The World's Most Frequently Cultured Fish

Tilapia is both the common and scientific name for a group of amazing fish native to Africa. Mainly freshwater fish, Tilapia inhabit shallow streams, ponds, rivers and lakes. Historically, they have been of major importance in artisan fishing in Africa and the Middle East, and they are of increasing in importance in aquaculture and aquaponics because they are very tolerant of a wide variety of conditions.

Different species of Tilapia, each with its own advantages and shortcomings, can be easily interbred to create designer hybrids. The fish that are available in food stores are almost always hybrids that are bred because of their higher growth rate. As a group, Tilapia are probably the most frequently cultured aquatic species in the world. They are an important source of protein, especially in developing countries, and a good candidate for farming. The aquaculture of Tilapia is a nutritious and healthy part of a balanced diet that is high in protein, low in fat, and substitutes well in any seafood recipe.

Ponds or Tanks?
The traditional way of raising Tilapia is in outdoor ponds. Tilapia ponds are usually not stocked as densely as cages and tanks to allow the fish a more natural way of life where they can utilize naturally available sources of food. If you are concerned with overcrowding, it is recommended to stock with males only. When you are ready to harvest, the best combination is seining and draining the pond. Tilapia in ponds is also a great way to control aquatic weeds. Most tilapia farms use shallow ponds since they are easier to train when it is time to harvest. The recommended water temperature for most types of Tilapia is 82˚ to 86˚F if you want a faster growth rate. If the water temperature drops below 68˚F it will result in a significantly lower growth rate. Once the water hits the 50's, the fish will start dying. Tilapia can be raised in ponds together with one or several other animal species.

The practice of using tanks or cages instead of ponds is a 20th century invention. Tank culture of Tilapia is quite common in regions where suitable land for Tilapia cultivation is scarce or there is a shortage of water. Compared to pond farming of Tilapia, the stocking density is usually very high in tanks. It is usually easier and less labor intensive to harvest Tilapia from tanks instead of ponds. The environment inside of a tank is easier to control than an outdoor pond as well. This is due to a long range of environmental factors, including water temperature, oxygen content and PH value. Pumps and aeration will be required to control the environment in a Tilapia tank. A flow-through system will rely on constant access to new, fresh water while a re-circulating system cleans the used water and re-uses it over and over again. The recommended water temperature for most Tilapia species is 82˚ to 86˚ F for optimal growth. If the temperature drops below 50˚F, you will see a dramatic decline in growth rate and possibly loss of fish.

All About Breeding
Unfortunately,  young Tilapia cannot be easily sexed as there are no obvious external differences between male and female Tilapia. Tilapia can usually be sexed once they reach 1 ounce. The way to do this is to look at the genital papilla located behind the anus of the fish. If it has one opening, it is a male; this single hole is used to pass both urine and milt. If there are two holes, it is a female. The females use one hole to pass urine and the other to lay eggs.

Breeding Tilapia is relatively easy. The biggest obstacle to breeding Tilapia is choosing a suitable pair. The easiest and cheapest method is to get a group of juveniles and allow them to grow up together, forming pairs themselves as they reach sexually maturity. Once you have an established pair, you can remove the others from the tank or move the breeding pair to another tank. It is not recommended to keep the breeding pair with the other Tilapia unless the aquarium is very big due to the aggression these fish show during breeding. They will claim a territory and protect their offspring by any means necessary.

Another option is to buy a breeding colony. Once you have a breeding colony, they are not hard to breed if you provide them with a suitable environment and a nutritious diet. Tilapia are egg layers; they spawn on an open surface (i.e., the bottom of a tank) where the eggs are fertilized. The female then collects and holds the fertilized eggs in her mouth until hatching. Brood sizes range from 100 to 2,000 eggs depending on the size of the female.

State Regulations
Last but not least, some states have banned certain types of Tilapia so make sure you check local regulations before you make a purchase.

To learn more, visit the Tilapia page on this website. Live Aquaponics sells several varieties of Tilapia, each with its own distinct advantages. If you have any questions while making your selection, feel free to contact us.  We love to talk with our customers.