Tilapia for aquaponics systems are a very popular fish. For people who are unaware why these are such an important fish for the industry, I want to take a few minutes and go over the reasons they have become so popular in commercial aquaponics.
1) They have high commercial value.
The Mozambique tilapia is one of the easiest food fish to grow out. They are large enough to be easly filleted and prepared in quite a number of ways. Since their introduction a few decades ago, they have become a popular fish with white flesh that is consumed more and more as a meal. Tilapia for aquaponics is a perfect match since they are easy to market to a growing demand.
They have become a staple for many, they are available as fresh and frozen processed fillets. Restaurants prize the, and like to prepare them from as fresh as possible
2) They grow rapidly
Tilapia for aquaponics grow at a very rapid rate. In captive tanks, they mature from freshly released fry to mature, plate size in about 10 months. For commercial growers this rapid growth makes them economically viable. The fish do not require long periods where they are simply eating and costing money. Unlike many other fish, their grow-out period is quite short.
3) They are quite adaptable to most conditions
Although the original tilapia in the aquarium hobby came from Mozambique, they have shown a remarkable adaptability to a wide variety of water conditions. They are so successful that they have occasionally become invaders into native habitats and become the dominant species. This has happened enough times that they have been banned for sale in a number of jurisdictions. In Southern California there are places where it is illegal to own tilapia. If you do end up keeping them, be very careful that you never release them into the natural habitat in your local area. There is no telling whether they might overtake the local fish stocks and wipe them out!
This native ability to adapt to different water conditions have made them perfect for aquaponic and aquaculture installations. Tilapia for aquaponics adapt well to crowded conditions. They thrive when kept in good water conditions. At the same time they do produce plenty of the nitrogenous wastes that are useful for the growth of plants in aquaponic grow beds.
4) They are easy to spawn – can breed easily in community aquariums
Tilapia were one of the first mouthbrooders imported from Africa. They came to my notice as home aquarium fish in the 1970s as cichlids were becoming more and more popular. The most common cichlids at that time were South American cichlids like Firemouth and Jack Dempsey. This new type from Africa used a different breeding strategy, the female held her eggs in her mouth while they changed from eggs to free swimming independent fry.
This strategy allows the females to protect the eggs without having to protect a set territory. She can find a suitable place for her fry to hide and grow up in a suitable aquarium decor. This does occur in aquaponic systems, but when tilapia for aquaponics are considered, they should be bred separately. This powerful breeding instinct and superb survival rate means that the live stock is self sustaining and very economical to replace as the fully grown adults are sold off.
5) They can be bred to have only male fry
Tilapia for aquaponics have one other unique and useful characteristic. There are strains where the females produce only males. This is ideal for tilapia for aquaponics systems since there is less need to fight over females and instinct to spawn. When only males are kept, they will tend to live better in crowded conditions. Females are housed separately and the spawns more closely monitored and controlled that is possible when pairs are in the growth tanks.