The Art Of Tilapia Culture
Tilapia culture is a booming business in Asia, and is making inroads in the United States as well, or at least in the southern states, where the climate is warm enough to allow the fish to survive.
Rabbits Of The Fish World - When one takes a close look at this rather small fish, it may be a cause for some wonder why the formality of a tilapia culture is needed in the first place. This is a fish that could live in a mud puddle, its breeding habits make it the rabbit of the fish world, and it can be commercially raised in tanks, ponds, and even rice paddies. In fact, one of the challenges of tilapia culture is that of keeping the population of the fish within reasonable bounds, even though it is being raised to be sold in bulk.
There are several species of tilapia, and the methods of tilapia culture employed are somewhat dependent upon the species, thought the differences are for the most part not large. Even though the fish can usually survive in brackish and even somewhat polluted water, when growing them commercially and in large numbers, water quality becomes important if many fish are confined to a rather small volume such as a tank. The water quality in a rice paddy might not be quite so important, as the fish have room to roam, but the better the quality of the water, the larger the fish tend to become.
In Asia, the size of the harvested fish is not always of a major concern, as there are many dishes in the Asian diet that feature very small fish, something that is usually not the case in the West. A tilapia culture that only produces larger sized fish is often a challenge however.
There are two things about tilapia culture that need to be well understood if a tilapia culture is to be successful. One is, it's desirable that either all of the fish, or a sizable percentage, are males, thus larger, and the other is the population needs to be kept in check or the fish will not grow nearly to the desired size.
Creating An All-Male Population - One approach, when the tilapia are being raised in hatcheries, is to feed the fry male hormones, which will result in male fingerlings. Another, is to simply stock the pond or hatchery with male fingerlings. These fingerlings would be hybrids, and would require a skilled workforce to produce, and either process will be somewhat expensive. The other approach is simply to segregate males from females once the fingerlings have grown to a size where than can be more easily sexed. If a great number of fish are involved, which is often the case, this can obviously become a labor intensive activity, and sexing thousands of fish might be a job that quickly can become boring, since only two sexes are involved.
Population Control - As far as keeping the population of the tilapia down, the simplest way is that of harvesting a percentage of the fry, leaving the rest to grow to a normal size. One drawback here is that since the tilapia are such prolific breeders, unless one is dealing with an all male population, new fry and fingerlings are going to constantly be produced.
Another method is to remove a percentage of the eggs after a fish has spawned. How this is done depends upon whether the species is a mouth breeder or a substrate breeder, and special breeding cages are usually needed for this process. A more novel approach is to introduce predatory fish into the mix in an effort to keep the population of the tilapia down. This approach obviously requires somewhat of a balancing act.
In summary, we have a fish that is quite easy to care for and maintain and also is a prolific breeder, seemingly good signs for success in tilapia culture. Ironically the seeds of success are the same as the seeds of potential failure.