Tilapia has grown in popularity the past few years thanks to cheap and efficient farming techniques. While other fish demand very specific conditions and are high maintenance, tilapia can be grown as a hobby or a small-scale operation.
Tilapia is the generic name of a species that has almost 100 breeds. Originating mostly from Egypt, the fish has a market size of 0.454 to 0.907 Kilogram whole with fillets representing 30 per cent to 40 per cent of the weight. The tilapia has several advantages that makes it ideal for small-size or hobby production. The tilapia grows fast and can usually reach market size in 6 to 12 months depending on the feed and conditions. The feed conversion rate is good: 0.907 Kilogram of feed can usually produce 1 pound of fillets. Tilapia accepts high density of 7 to 10 market-size fish per cubic feet.
Breeding a tilapia is easy and quick, and the set-up is simple. The breeding pairs can be left in a small aquarium while the fingerlings are transferred to a larger tank for growing. The main problem faced with mixing male and female is that tilapia breed young, around 60 to 90 days, months before they reach market size. Their growth runs the risk of overpopulating the tank. To solve that problem, large commercial operations are using hormones or genetically selected breeders to produce males only. For the small-size grower it is more economical to get a pair of males that have a yy chromosome and will produce male specimens 99.9 per cent of the time. A mating pair will produce 100 fingerlings a week on average.
Tilapia will usually eat about anything. They are omnivores, with a preference for algae and other aquatic plants. For a small-scale commercial or hobbyist grower, using commercially available feed is better for the health of the fish and the health of the consumer. Organic feeds are available, as are several recipes for homemade feeds. Commercial feeds will allow the fastest growth.
Tilapia are low maintenance and can accommodate a wide range of temperatures. The tank can be any size or shape. The water needs to be cleaned by a good filtration system to avoid fatal ammonia, nitrite and nitrate build-up. The pH needs to be checked regularly and the water temperature needs to be between 75 and 90 degrees F. Temperatures below 15.6 degrees C will hinder growth and kill fish. Because tilapia can accept high density, the amount of oxygen in the water is crucial. Remember to back up the various systems and use an uninterrupted power supply to ensure that the system will continue to operate in case of power outage. A few hours without power can kill hundreds of fishes.
The filtration system for a fish tank is crucial to the health of the fish, which produce a lot of manure. One way to dispose of that manure is to compost it. Another is to use an aquaponic system. In an aquaponic system the water runs into a filtration system composed of rock or clay balls. The fish manure is absorbed in that filtration system and broken down by bacteria. Those bacteria produce a natural fertiliser. That system allows for cleaner water for the fish and a secondary source of income for the grower using waste from the fishes.