Farming tilapia is an ancient tradition that has been around for 1000s of years. The first people to farm tilapia where people in the region where the fish first originated in Africa and the Middle East. The ancient Egyptians farmed tilapia in ponds along the Nile, a tradition that is alive to this day. Back in those days tilapia farming was a small-scale endeavor, but today research and several new techniques and technologies have make large scale farming possible. One such technique is to keep large numbers of tilapia in cages. This prevents the tilapia from forming a territory and from breeding, which in turn leads to reduced aggression and decreases the problems associated with aggression. Another way to prevent breeding is to farm monosex tilapia, typically males only since they grow faster and bigger than females.
Tilapia farming might be an ancient tradition in Africa but in the rest of the world tilapia farming is a rather new occurrence. Tilapia farms started to pop up in Asia in the 1940s and Asia is today the dominating base for tilapia farming. Over 75% of all farmed tilapia are farmed in Asia. The major countries are China, Indonesia, Taiwan, Thailand, and the Philippines. Together, these countries had a combined production of more than 1 million metric tons tilapia in 2001. Tilapia farming is however today rapidly growing in South and Central America. Latin American countries with commercial tilapia farming include Mexico, Brazil, Columbia, and Costa Rica.
The waste majority of all tilapia farmed is being sold and imported into the United States; the United States actually imports 95% of all produce tilapia in the world. The United States has it own tilapia production put still needs to import the majority of the tilapia consumed within the country, since the domestic production is far too small to satisfy demands. Tilapia consumption is rapidly rising in Europe as well and is believed to continue to rise when environmental concerns make people look for alternative to the endangered cod and other European staple fish.
Most tilapia species can be farmed with different results, but there are mainly four different species and hybrids of these four species that are being farmed commercially for the food industry. These species are Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus), Blue tilapia (Oreochromis aureus), Oreochromis urolepis hornorum and Mozambique Tilapia (Oreochromis mossambicus). The hybrid strains sometimes contain DNA from other tilapia species as well, intentionally or by accident since tilapia readily breeds with tilapias from other species even in the wild and it is hard to know if the tilapia you use as parent fish are 100% pure species.
If you want to know more about the specifics of breeding tilapia you can read our guides on how to breed tilapia using different methods. There you will find a more detailed picture of what it takes to successfully farm tilapia using the different methods described.