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Tilapia, - Protein for all.

I became interested in Tilapia when I first saw them on the menu in the Philippines.  I tried a large one which had been filleted and it was GOOD. The trouble is that the Filipinos eat them much smaller than this one and they tend to be full of little bones.  I like to wade through my meal and eat great big chunks and not have to worry about finding bones etc.  I'll stick to the big ones.


If you would like to know how YOU can breed them.

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Ready For The Grill

They do grow to about a kilo without too much trouble and bigger than that if you feed them a lot. About 1/2 Kg. is OK to sell to people who are used to bones and they grow to this size in about 6 months.  There are now a lot of different strains, but the ones we have are mouth brooders. This means that the mother lays some eggs say 1 or 200 and the male fertilizes them and the mother then scoops up all the eggs which continue their development in her mouth.  They hatch out after a couple of weeks and the mother soon releases the fry into the water and they are more or less on their own, but they do rush back in if startled.

After about 3 months they are - maybe 3 or 4 inches long and at this age it is possible to segregate them according to sex.  The females can be used for breeding but the males which grow bigger and faster are put in a separate tank, pond or enclosure and fed a lot of food. In another 3 months they will be ready for sale. Tilapia are a very hardy breed, which is why they are chosen for fish farms, especially in the Far East, where the temperatures are more to their liking. They will thrive in extremely badly polluted water and can stand high levels of salinity.  My tanks have been as low as 20 and as high as 38 degrees C. and they do not seem to have been affected by this. 


I fancy breeding them in UK where I have a sort of smallholding and a large number of friends from the Philippines who would, - no doubt, prefer to get their Tilapia fresh, rather than the tasteless frozen ones that are sometimes available. The trick in UK will be to keep them nice and warm. They like temperatures of about 80 deg. F. This is not a problem in the summer in a greenhouse type of building, but extra heating will be necessary to maintain this level all the time. I am not without ideas and I shall try waste oil, (I plan to let people drain out their engines and change to new oil on a ramp that I will supply and charge for the use thereof!). I have burnt it in a special blowlamp type burner when I was experimenting with a lot of waste oil I had in France. It worked very well with a blast of air and burnt hot with a blue flame. 

Another thing which we have in abundance in Norfolk UK is blown down and redundant trees.  A friend of mine goes round clearing up and cutting down old trees and he gets paid for taking them away. I have a big old saw bench lots of suitable engines to drive it and lots of storage and space.  Wind power will provide a bit and of course the sun, when it shines.

In Fujairah the problem is that the water gets too hot. It has been over 40 here and as soon as the weather got warm I had to put cooling in. I have a fan blowing across the top of my small tank, - of about 100 gallons and the large one has a pump taking water from the base, through a filter which I have to clean every day and then to a spray above the tank, which is about 700 galls. It cools it by evaporation mostly.  The fish came from the Marine Research Centre in Umm Al Quain. The Director, Abdulrazzaq Anwahi very kindly agreed to let me have 20 adults as I obviously knew a bit about them.  This is an extremely interesting and well-run place, they do far more than breed Tilapia and visits can be arranged by appointment.  Tel. 9716 7655881.

I brought them home in a 30 gallon rubbish bin in the back of my truck.  One died en route and the rest thoroughly polluted the water with their poo. This is always a problem and I have to change about 25% of the water in each tank every day.  However!  I put it on the garden and it is doing VERY WELL. I shall combine the fish with a tropical garden in UK and the roots of the plants can draw nutrients from the water and help purify it in turn.  This is what Robert Kovak CEO. of Syskill International suggested and I am all for it. ( See his Water Treatment site).

In the next couple of weeks two jumped out of the tank, so I put a cover on it and another died - all on it's own. I don't know why.  I now have 16 and they are all very healthy and happy.  They come and smile at me when I feed them.

In the next month or so I shall have water temperatures low enough to start breeding again and I will have the problem of having to drain a lot of water and poo out of the tanks without draining out all the fry, which are smaller than the biggest lumps of poo.  Any suggestions will be welcome. 

I got 50 Kgs. of Tilapia feed from the big factory in the port in Abu Dhabi. It is called Emirates Animal Feed Factory, I think and if you want to see them you have to wait about half an hour for a Port Pass for your car.  Well worth the wait, however. Tilapia will eat almost anything and for a while I fed them turkey and chicken meal. In the Far East they are normally grown in conjunction with some form of animal or vegetable waste which is allowed to rot near the pond and the nutrient allows the growth of Phytoplankton which the fish will eat.  I shall try this food in UK but here we just do not have access to, or room to use it.

Now 19-Sept.

It is starting to cool down and I will not need the fan much longer. The large fish are stabilised, I think and the biggest males are about 10 inches long. The small ones  are 4 - 5 inches. I think they may have already started breeding. I have not seen any but they are almost big enough.  Both tanks are murky most of the time and I drain so much off at the bottom, it may be that I am draining of eggs at the same time. The garden is doing very well.  I still have the problem of how to drain of the polluted water without losing the fry or eggs???

Update 4-10-03 

A few days ago I noticed a stack of new babies in my big tank, so they are at it again.  I have found that if you are quick with a fine net, you can scoop them all up before they start to go into the depths of the tank. I must have caught about 300 this has got to be most of them and they are now in a bowl feeding happily on crushed Tilapia meal.  They are now about 4 days old and visibly bigger already. I am going to see a business associate on Monday or Tuesday with a large market garden site and I shall suggest that he sets up a tank of fish and I will provide him with free food just so he can use the wonderful nutrients that have to be drained off every day. We will see what his reaction is.


And I thought I was doing well!  Last week I had a new generation suddenly appeared in my big tank. Probably 300 or so 1/4 inch babies all swimming together at the top of the tank.  I quickly scooped them out, as I knew that this was the only chance I would get to capture them.  I put them in a small container and started to feed them on powdered meal.  They are doing well. My 4 inch ones that were born in the spring and survived a hot summer are also OK.  I thought that the big ones would be all right now that the weather has cooled down a lot. I was not too worried when the pump that sends the water through a filter, which is cleaned every day, packed up. It also helps to cool the water as it is fed some 8 feet into the air and cascades down into the tank, cooling by contact and evaporation.


I continued to drain about 20% of the water out each day and it is automatically topped up with fresh water. The water is going to water my wife's plants and they are doing very well.


Yesterday I noticed that the water, which is a normal green colour from the algae, was smelling badly.  I decided to catch one of my big fish, which are the original stock, which I got from the Marine Research Centre early spring, just to have a look at one to see how they were doing. I had 19 originally but due to a couple of accidents and one mysterious fatality they were down to 16.  I raked around with my net and it hit something. I pulled it out. A very dead Tilapia of around a Kilo, - been dead a couple of days.  Eventually I found 8 more bodies in the bottom of the tank. There were a few live ones so I started to drain the tank, aerated the water as best I could and put in a lot of fresh water.  When I finally got it empty, I had 4 adults still alive. These look healthy enough and I cannot really see what killed the others, that did not kill these.


I have bought another pump and sadly disposed of about 8 kgs of smelly Tilapia that would have made a good meal last week. It co-incides with the pump stopping, so I think the dregs that the filter removed were more harmful than I supposed. That or the fact that the water lost all it's dissolved oxygen because of the circulation stopping, even though there was a small air pump still operating.


So, you win some - you lose some.  I am very disappointed to lose so many of the adults at once, especially as they are ready for breeding again and eating. I started this to gain experience, but it is a hard way to learn.


Now, in mid December the latest babies are about an inch and a half long the Middle size ones are about 6 inches, but the water temperature is down to below 20 at night. This is really too cold and I am going to seek advice on what to do.  They do not seem put out by it - as usual, but I think they have stopped breeding again.   (The advice, - don't  worry about it!)

Update 4th. Feb. 2004.

All the babies are now in my "small" tank and the bigger of the medium sized ones are in the big tank. Everyone is happy, including me as it is a lot less trouble now, everything is working and fairly simple. One long term problem remaining is the coating of the drain pipe into the garden with algae.  It seems to be impossible to shift - especially in a long pipe.  I bought a new one a while ago and threw away the blocked one, but it is a waste of money, as it is getting blocked again.


A few days ago when I was re-organising the tanks, I decided that the biggest one (a big male of about a foot long and almost exactly 2 pounds weight) had been a drain on my resources too long. I scooped him out and my wife cooked him.  At last the first payback.  She pronounced it super, but I thought it had a lot of bones. Maybe if it was pickled in vinegar, the bones would go brittle and not be a problem - for me.  I shall have to take a photo without flash next time, but by the time this was developed, he had gone.

I welcome contact with anyone prepared to compare notes or who wants to benefit from my limited experience.

Useful Tilapia and Fish Farming links:


The ruler, which you can't read, indicates that it is 12 inches, nose to tail.  It is starting to warm up and I expect that breeding will start again soon. At least I know what to do now.

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