Are you thinking about getting into the wonderful world that is tilapia farming? In that case there are a few things you should consider before taking the plunge. Doing good and extensive research beforehand can mean the difference between success and failure and can help you avoid a lot of unnecessary and costly mistakes. It can also help you figure out if tilapia farming really is for you. Once you learn more about it, you might realize that there are other endeavors that are more suitable for you. Running a tilapia farm can be an arduous task so you should think long and hard about it as the work can become very tedious if it isn’t for you.
As a prospective tilapia farmer you should ideally not only evaluate whether or not tilapia farming is right for you, but also consider if the area where you plan to start a tilapia farm in is suitable for tilapia farming. Factors to consider are climate (tilapia are cold sensitive), water access (you need plenty of water which can be costly) and local legislation (laws can affect the investment needed and thereby the potential return). You should also consider the pay grade in your country. If you live and operate in a country with high wages it can be hard to compete with tilapia farmers in Asia and Latin America. High wages are however not something that makes commercial viable tilapia farming impossible. There are as an example numerous successful tilapia farms in the United States. It just means that the farm has to operative more efficiently to make a decent profit and that you have to find the right market for your fish, e.g. selling fresh tilapia to high-paying domestic customers instead of competing with Asians on the low-price frozen tilapia market.
Tilapia is native to tropical waters and the ideal water temperature is 28-30 degrees C (82-86 degrees F). They do survive in colder water but that will result in a slower growth rate. Temperatures below 20 degrees C (50 degrees F) causes them to grow much slower and temperatures below 13 degrees C (55 degrees F) make them very susceptible to disease. This means that you can only farm tilapia year-round in areas where the water stays warm 12 months a year, unless you whish to heat the water. Heating the water which can be quite expensive and the cost of heating should be considered when calculating the viability of a tilapia farm. An alternative if you live in a colder area is to only farm tilapia during the summer, but this will give you a short growth season and make it harder to make enough money from the farm to make it financially viable, especially if you want to use the farm as your only source of income.
Tilapia is a very hardy fish. They are much more resistant to disease than most other fish farmed in aquaculture. This is a trait that those who sell tilapia fingerlings often presses on and they tend to over exaggerate how hardy their fish really are. This is important to remember as tilapia can get sick even if they are hardier than most other species. This means that it still is very important to keep good water conditions with a high oxygen level in your growing units and that you need to calculate the cost of this when you calculate the viability of the farm. Also remember that the stocking density will affect how prone your fish will be to disease as they get stressed in crowded conditions which weaken their immune defense. All this is important to keep in mind when you calculate how many fish you need to keep in each holding tank to make the farm viable. A densely stocked growing unit also requires better filtration and aeration to keep water quality high.
Another thing that you might want to consider is whether you want to breed tilapia using a mon-sex culture or if you want to breed them the old fashion way. When males and females tilapia are kept together they spawn as soon as they become sexually mature. This cause the tilapia to grow slower than they otherwise would as they spend energy on spawning. It also causes all other tilapia in the culture to grow more slowly as the spawning result in fry and fingerlings that compete with the adults for food and space. Tilapia can rapidly produce a lot of offspring and if the amount of fry gets too large it can lead to stunting, i.e. that the fish never grow to their full size. There are a couple of ways to avoid this problem. One is to farm tilapia in densely stocked cages or tanks which will disrupt the breeding. Another option is to use mono-sex cultures.
A mono sex culture is when you only keep tilapia of one sex in the growing unit. Fish farmers opting for this method usually keep males only as they grow larger and at a faster rate compared to females. Mono-sex fingerlings are available for purchase. These have been produced by the use of hormones or through cross breeding. You can learn more about the techniques by reading our article on breeding mono-sex tilapia. If you want to breed mono-sex tilapia you will need to check your local legislation as the use of hormones is prohibited or at least restricted in many areas. One such example is that hormone treated tilapia can’t be sold in the United States as the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Agency) do not allow it.