Tilapia is a warm water, fresh water fish farmed in a few locations in Canada. The flesh is white, moist and mild-flavoured and, as such, versatile for cooking in a variety of menus. Dozens of species are farmed worldwide, however three species make up the bulk of production. The main species farmed in Canada is the Nile tilapia, Oreochromis niloticus.
Tilapia is one of the fastest growing fish farming sectors globally, led by China and other low cost Asian and South American producers. Over 2 million tonnes were produced in 2006, and it is now in the top 10 fish species consumed in North America. The majority of farmed tilapia is exported to seafood markets in Europe and North American as frozen and value added products. All of the Canadian production is sold live to local markets, where premium prices are obtained for fresh, live fish. Toronto is the single largest market for live tilapia in North America, and burgeoning markets exist in Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver.
Where they’re farmed…
Tilapia are farmed in land-based, heated tank systems in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia. The conditions are too harsh for survival in outdoor ponds, and so stocks must be maintained indoors at all times.
How they’re farmed…
Tilapia are raised in land-based, heated tank systems that employ state-of-the-art recirculation technology. The same water is reused several times by the fish, and the waste water treated with biological nutrient removal processes including aquaponics - systems combining hydroponic plant production with fish farming – to enhance the overall value of production. High end Boston lettuce and herbs are produced in aquaponics in Canada.
Tilapia require temperatures above 24 C in order to thrive. Their fast growth means the fish reach maturity at only a few months of age, and as such can produce several broods each year, unlike our cold-water species, which typically only produce one brood per year.
Tilapia are stocked in tanks at very small fingerling sizes less than 2 grams supplied from a Canadian hatchery breeding stock. They can grow to 45 cm in size and up to 2 kg in weight, however market size fish of 200-400 grams are preferred for the live markets. Growth from fingerling to market size typically takes less than 10 months in land-based rearing systems
What they eat…
Tilapia are omnivorous, eating a variety of plant and animal products. Commercial diets consist mostly of lower cost plant-protein ingredients. Work is underway to more effectively utilize cereal and grain crops in the Prairie provinces of Canada for tilapia diets in Canada and globally, with the view of adding value to these agriculture commodities.
Why they’re environmentally sustainable…
Tilapia utilize plant-based diets, produced from low impact agricultural commodities for the most part.
They are raised in closed containment systems on land and well suited for intensive culture this way. Fish can not escape and even if this occurred accidentally, the all-male fish would not survive or reproduce in the Canadian climate.
Tilapia production requires minimal access to water as it can be produced in high densities in land-based systems with relatively little water turnover. The systems employed for culture are self-cleaning and generate little in the way of organic and inorganic waste, resulting in extremely low to nil environmental impacts on the surrounding environment.
Did you know…
Tilapia is sometimes referred to as St. Peter’s fish, as they are believed to be the fish caught when Christ asked St. Peter to cast out his net in the Sea of Galilee.
It is believed the Egyptians farmed tilapia for food over 3,000 years ago.
Small, compact tilapia production systems (2-5 tonnes per year) are capable of being operated in relatively small basements of homes. Several such systems are found increasingly in urban North America settings for live fish production for the restaurant trade.
Red Fish Tilapia BC: www.redfishranch.com
Tilapia references: www.aps.uoguelph.ca/~aquacentre/aec/publications/tilapia.html
MDM Aqua Farms AB: www.mdmaqua.ca
Aquaculture Association of Canada: www.aquacultureassociation.ca