Tilapia in Aquaponics

Blue Nile Tilapia

Blue Nile Tilapia

Tilapia is the Common name for nearly a hundred species of cichlid fish from the tilapine cichlid tribe. Tilapia inhabit a variety of fresh water habitats including shallow streams, ponds, rivers and lakes.  They are especially popular in Aquaponic systems.

FISH FARMING – Tilapia is the fifth most important fish in fish farming with production reaching 1,505,804 metric tons in 2000. Because of their large size, rapid growth, and palatability, tilapiine cichlids are the focus of major farming efforts, specifically various species of ”Oreochromis”, ”Sarotherodon”, and ”Tilapia”, collectively known colloquially as tilapia. Like other large fish, they are a good source of protein and popular among artisanal and commercial fisheries. Whole tilapia fish can be processed into skinless, boneless (PBO) fillets: the yield is from 30 percent to 37 percent, depending on fillet size and final trim.

NUTRITION - Tilapia have very low levels of mercury as they are fast-growing and short-lived with a primarily herbivorous diet, and thus do not accumulate mercury found in prey. Tilapia meat is a low saturated fat, low calorie, low carbohydrate and low sodium protein source. It is a source of phosphorus, niacin, selenium, vitamin B12 and potassium. However, However farm raised Tilapia (the least expensive and most popular) has a high fat content (though low in saturated fats).

Fresh Tilapia ready to take home to the frying pan

Fresh Caught Tilapia

 – Tilapia are unable to survive in low temperate climates because they require warm water. The pure strain of the Blue Tilapia, ”Oreochromis aureus”, has the greatest cold tolerance and dies at 45°F (7°C) while all other species of tilapia will die at a range of 52°F (11°C) to 62°F (17°C). As a result, they cannot invade temperate habitats and disrupt native ecologies in temperate zones. It is believed that Tilapia can live only in Florida south of a line crossing the state horizontally about as far north in the state as Orlando and a few other isolated areas such as power plant discharge zones.

FINDING INFORMATION ON STRAINS – There are so many different stains of Tilapia available to Aquaponics, I will not attempt to list or elaborate on them here.  If you have useful information about a particular strain, it would be greatly appreciated if you would please register on the forum DIY Aquaponics and post your information there so interested individuals can make any inquiries for specifics.

SPAWNING HABITS - Spawning occurs when the water temperature exceeds 68°F. Males dig large circular nests with their mouths in shallow water over a sandy bottom. The male swims out to a passing female and leads her to the nest where courtship occurs; female lays eggs and immediately takes them into her mouth after male fertilizes, after which she swims off. The males continue to guard nests and may spawn again with another female. Eggs hatch in female’s mouth, and fry are occasionally released to feed, but whenever threatened they return to the female’s mouth until they are about three weeks old. This type of parental care is called mouth-brooding.

FEEDING HABITS - Feed primarily on plankton and small organisms living in or on bottom detritus; most common foods in the wild are detritus, algae, diatoms, and plant material.

AGE AND GROWTH – Grow rapidly for first few months, then slow somewhat. Most hybrid strains can ultimately reach 4-6 pounds within a 9 month time frame; females weighing in at 2-4 pounds respectively is common; males being larger at each age than females.

EDIBILITY – White flaky meat with a mild flavor; considered excellent eating, and farm-raised fish are often sold in grocery stores.  At this time some 99% of all Tilapia fillets sold in America are imported from China where their aquaculture practices are questionable to say the least.  Ask a dog who ate their dog food or a baby who chewed the lead impregnated paint off one of the toys imported from there.

SPECIAL NOTE – Tilapia of many species can be found in abundance in most of the canals ranging from Orlando south.  Possession and transport of live tilapia in Florida is illegal without a special permit except blue tilapia.  As long as you are below a line that runs across Florida near Orlando Blue Tilapia are legal to possess but you still have to have a state permit, otherwise they can only be possessed if dead, so anglers who catch and want to eat the tilapia they caught, other than blue tilapia, should immediately place them on ice.

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