Tilapia Fish – Origin
Originally found in Africa, tilapia is now widely farmed in many parts of the world including China, which is the leading producer of tilapia. As a result, it is the most widely consumed type of fish in the world today. Contrary to popular belief, there are nearly 100 species of tilapia including Blue tilapia, Nile tilapia, Mozambique tilapia, as well as a hybrid of Blue and Nile tilapia, among others. They are widely found in freshwater bodies including ponds, lakes, and rivers. However, they cannot withstand water temperatures below 70 °F (21 °C).
Video: Tilapia Fish Overview
Tilapia fish are similar to Sunfish in appearance with laterally compressed bodies, long dorsal fins and wide puffed up lips. You can easily distinguish the Nile tilapia from the other species because the former has clearly identifiable bands running vertically. On the other hand, Blue tilapia fish has interrupted bands while Mozambique tilapia barely has any visible bands. You can also distinguish tilapia fish depending on physical features such as fin structure and color. However, color is not a great way of differentiating fish species because factors such as water environment and available fish food can influence color.
Breeding and Reproduction
Tilapia fish usually breed in shallow waters – up to three feet — where a single male mates with several females. The females incubate the fertilized eggs in their mouths until they hatch. Take note that the fry (baby fish) spend some time hiding in their mother’s mouth to avoid predators such as other fish. The time it takes for the tilapia to mature varies across the species. For instance, the Nile tilapia takes anywhere from 10 to 12 months to reach maturity while Mozambique tilapia requires less than five months to mature. In terms of weight at maturity, the Nile tilapia can tip the scales at 1.5 pounds. In comparison, Mozambique tilapia can mature weighing a mere four ounces.
Tilapia fish can feed on a wide variety of organisms such as larval fish, insects, organic matter thrown into water bodies, and plankton. In fact, tilapia fish are more efficient than other fish when it comes to feeding on plankton. In aquaponics systems, tilapia eat duckweed, ground-up salad greens from the greenhouse, commercial feed, and worms. In addition, tilapia love to eat algae from the side of the tank.
According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), tilapia has very low levels of mercury and is safe for human consumption. In addition, it has low levels of sodium, saturated fats, and carbohydrates. This means that obese and overweight people can eat tilapia without worrying about piling on more weight. Another bit of good news is that tilapia meat is a good source of proteins and essential micronutrients such as potassium, selenium, and phosphorous. Unlike tilapia that grows naturally, farmed tilapia tends to have low levels of omega-3 fatty acids and high levels of omega-6 fatty acids. However, this does not mean that you should choose other types of meat, for example, bacon over the latter type of tilapia. In fact, a report published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry recommends eating tilapia meat.
The Role of Tilapia in Aquaponics
Aquaponics is the agricultural practice of growing of plants and fish together. An aquaponics system works in a closed loop manner. To start with, the fish excrete and enrich water with essential plant nutrients. The enriched water goes into gravel beds where growing plants absorb the nutrients. Finally, the water flows back into the fish tank where the fish enrich it again with nutrients and the cycle continues repeatedly.
According to a study published in the Aquaponics Journal, it is advisable to determine the ratio of fish to plants based on the feeding rate ratio. In simple terms, feeding rate ratio is the amount of fish feed consumed every day per square meter of area with growing plants. The rule of thumb is to keep the ratio between 60 to 100g per square meter per day. Although fish provide most of the necessary plant nutrients, you should supplement plants with potassium, iron, and calcium after every two weeks. Finally, the water pH levels should range between 6.2 and 7.0.
Tilapia fish thrive well in warm fresh water at least 75 degrees Fahrenheit and are a good source of omega-6 fatty acids, potassium, and phosphorous. You can use an aquaponics system to grow fish and plants at the same time. At the end of the day, you will have fish meat and vegetables or flowers for use at home.
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