More and more consumers have begun searching for alternatives to wild caught fish due to the severe depletion of our oceans and many people hope that tilapia and other types of farmed fish will help feed the world to an even greater extent in the future.
World wide, numerous projects have been launched where impoverished families have been encouraged to start raising tilapia in their own backyards to feed themselves and to generate an income by selling surplus fish at local food markets.
Tilapia farms have become a way for countries around the equator to take advantage of their tropical climate. In tropical conditions, tilapia can be raised and bred year round. In South East Asia as well as Central- and South America, tilapia farms generate an important source of income. In Latin America, larger commercial farms have been set up; farms that create local jobs by growing tilapia that is exported fresh, not frozen, to the U.S. food market. In South East Asia, the focus is instead on frozen tilapia for the world fish market, where the United States is the main importer.
The creation of tilapia farms does however have its downsides. There is always the risk of tilapias escaping into native ecosystems where they can become problematic invasive species and/or transmit dangerous pathogens to local wildlife. This risk is quite easy to overcome when tilapia is grown in cages and almost absent when the fish is raised in tanks, provided of course that safe cages and tanks are used and that water changes and harvesting are carried out in a safe manner.
Another problem with tilapia farms is that they can pollute surrounding waters with organic waste. In the future, we might se more and more farms opting for aquaponic solutions where the nutrient rich waste water is used to fertilize fruits and vegetables. That way, the waste will help the farmer yield a second harvest instead of endangering the ecosystem.
Tilapias farmed in ponds will make use of naturally occurring sources of food and if you want to boost their growth rate you don’t have to feed them protein rich food – you just have to feed the micro organisms at the bottom of the food chain, e.g. by placing manure from other farm animals in the pond. Other common farm fishes like salmon are typically fed protein rich meal produced from fish and other marine organisms. Such fish farms will therefore not really solve the problem with over fishing of our oceans since they rely on wild caught fish for their production. This makes tilapia a very interesting alternative for the future. However, when tilapia is farmed in cages or tanks you have to provide them with much more food and the food must also be of a higher quality, such as fish meal.