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Raise Tilapia in Backyard

Tilapia ranks as the second most cultivated fish in the world, after carp. Tilapia is one of the most popular farmed fish in the world and its production is increasing. Tilapia is considered sustainable for raising thanks to its herbivore eating habits, feeding mainly on plankton, filamentous algae, aquatic macrophytes and other vegetable matter. As a result, tilapia does not accumulate pollutants and other toxins in their bodies. It has become the mainstay of many small-scale aquaculture projects of poor fish farmers in the developing world.

Tilapia was first introduced into the country in the 1950s. Today, there are four species raised in the country: Oreochronlis niloticus, O. mossambicus, O. aureus, and Tilapia zillii.

Business opportunities

Tilapia production grew by 5 percent during the last 14 years, noted the industry strategic plan for tilapia. This served as a major determinant in the gross supply of tilapia in the country. Tilapia surplus stood around 2,000 to 5,000 metric tons during the same period. At 2020, the surplus is expected to reach around 10,000 metric tons.

Tilapia products – fresh and frozen fillets, whole and gutted fish – have become important commodities in the international seafood trade.

Site selection
Select a site where water is accessible throughout the year. It should be well exposed to sunlight, which hastens the growth and multiplication of small aquatic plants called algae (”lumot”), which serve as food for the tilapia. More important, it should not be flooded during rainy season.

Pond preparation
The size of the pond should be determined by the number of fish you want to raise. A good guide is 2-3 mature fish per square meter of water surface. The depth of the pond should be one meter with water not less than three-fourths meter deep. Manage the water so that it will not flow continuously through the pond. To insure that no fish will escape, fine-meshed bamboo or fence should screen ponds that have waterways connecting them to canals or outside water. Both the inside and outside end of each waterway should be screened. Use big bamboos for inlets and outlets for small ponds.

Securing fish fingerlings
Obtain your first supply of young tilapia from any reliable fishpond owner.  If fingerlings are unavailable, you need about 20-30 pairs of good breeders to start reproducing in your tilapia pond of 10 x 20 feet. If fingerlings are available, you will need to plan on about 5 to 6 fingerlings per square meter of water surface area. The most common breeds of tilapia available are: Nilotica, Mozambique, and GIF (genetically modified).

Stocking the pond
Before stocking the pond with tilapia, be sure to drain it thoroughly and remove the weeds and unwanted fish that may be present. Allow your pond to dry up until it cracks before refilling with fresh, clean water. Fertilize the pond one week before stocking. Stock the pond either early in the morning or late in the afternoon when the water temperature is low in order to avoid weakening of the fish. Allow the water in the pond to mix gradually with the water in the fish container before putting the fish into the pond.

Care and maintenance
- Feed daily during morning and afternoon at one portion of the pond. Supplement feeds with fine rice bran, bread crumbs, earthworms, termites, and others at an initial rate of 5% of the total body weight of the fish.
- Maintain the natural fishfood by adding more fertilizer. Place chicken droppings in sacks and suspend in the water at every corner of the pond. Put 2.5 kg of chicken manure per bag.
- Maintain a water level depth of 1-1.5 meters. Gradually remove excess fingerlings after the third month of stocking. Retain six fingerlings per square meter. (As another source of income, you can sell those excess fingerlings to other farmers in the area.)
- Plant “kangkong” and “gabi” at one portion to provide shade for the fish during hot weather and to serve as growing media for natural fish food. Water lily also provides shade. However, do not totally cover the pond with plants as this will interfere with the natural food production process.
- Prevent seepages and leakages by patching them with muds. Clear the pond dikes of weeds.
- Check the gates occasionally to prevent entry of other fish species and avoid loss of stock. If your home lot is easily flooded, place stones around the top of dikes to prevent the escape of fish if the water overflows.
- Find ways to keep the mudfish (”haluan”) out of your tilapia pond. The mudfish is a ferocious predator of tilapia fingerlings and ever larger fish.
- Plant more trees within the sources of water to maintain the flow. Protect the riverbeds from toxic waste water and pesticides and avoid dumping of garbage.
- Plant trees and grasses near the dike to avoid erosion.

You can harvest tilapia by using a dip net or a lift net. Lower the net down to the bottom of the pond
and spread a small amount of feed on the water just above the net. Lift the net as fast as possible to
prevent the escape of the tilapia. After harvesting, stock the pond again.

Health Articles

An Open Letter regarding recent reports that low-fat fish like tilapia are unhealthy. (July 16, 2008)

Eating fish, especially oily fish, at least twice per week is recommended for heart disease prevention. Fish is low in total and saturated fats, high in protein and essential trace minerals, and contains long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA). Oily fish rich in these healthy omega-3s include salmon, trout, albacore tuna, sardines, anchovies, mackerel and herring. Our omega-3 needs can also be met by eating less-oily (lower-fat) fish more often.

Tilapia and catfish are examples of lower-fat fish that have fewer omega-3s than the oily fish listed above, but still provide more of these heart-healthy nutrients than hamburger, steak, chicken, pork or turkey. Actually, a 3 ounce serving of these fish provides over 100 mg of the long chain omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. Considering that this is about the current daily intake of these fatty acids in the US, even these fish should be considered better choices than most other meat alternatives. Since they are also relatively low in total and saturated fats and high in protein, they clearly can be part of a healthy diet.

US Department of Agriculture statistics indicate that farmed tilapia and catfish contain somewhat more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3. Most health experts (including organizations such as the American Heart Association and the American Dietetic Association) agree that omega-6 fatty acids are, like omega-3s, heart-healthy nutrients which should be a part of everyone's diet. Omega-6 fatty acids are found primarily in vegetable oils (corn, soybean, safflower, etc) but also in salad dressings, nuts, whole-wheat bread, and chicken.

Replacing tilapia or catfish with "bacon, hamburgers or doughnuts" is absolutely not recommended.


William S. Harris, PhD, FAHA
Sr. Scientist and Director
Metabolism and Nutrition Research Center
Sanford Research/USD
Sioux Falls, SD
(605) 328-1304