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Best Tilapia For Aquaponics (Easy Guide)

Best Tilapia For Aquaponics

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Tilapia are known as one of the hardiest domesticated fish species. While they’re versatile and can survive in a wide range of conditions, caring for them is relatively easy. Due to their innately low-maintenance lifestyle, it’s not hard to see why tilapia are among the most popular choice of fish for aquaponics, especially for beginners. They come in different varieties, and choosing the best tilapia for aquaponics can determine your overall system’s success.

Each type of tilapia has specific requirements, and meeting those requirements is essential for a thriving aquaponics system. Nearly a hundred species of tilapia exist, but here are three of the best varieties you can raise in an aquaponics system.

  • Mozambique Tilapia (Oreochromis mossambicus)
  • Nile Tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus)
  • Blue tilapia (Oreochromis aureus)

In this article, we will examine these three breeds of tilapia, and why they could be the best option for your system.

Tilapia and Aquaponics

Tilapia in Aquaponics Systems

Tilapia, a freshwater fish species native to Africa, has become a popular source of food around the world, including the United States. Belonging to the Cichlid family of fish, tilapia is valued for its mild taste and versatility in the kitchen. 

In the aquaponics industry, Tilapia are commonly preferred because of their low price, robustness, and fast growth rate. It is omnivorous, enjoying diets composed of plants and animals, thus eliminating the need for expensive feed.

For those who are beginners in aquaponics gardening, caring for tilapia can be very rewarding. If you are not sure which type of tilapia to start with, the next section should provide you with the information you need.

Mozambique Tilapia

Mozambique tilapia (Oreochromis mossambicus) is a fish native to Southeastern Africa. They were introduced into U.S. aquariums by trade and were believed to have been released accidentally (or intentionally) into waterways of Florida, Alabama, and Texas. 

In appearance, Mozambique tilapia are dull green to yellow in color, with faint banding. They closely resemble and are often mistaken for Nile tilapia. Mozambique tilapia sizes may vary, but adults can weigh up to 2.4 pounds and reach 15 inches in length. 

Mozambique type doesn’t grow as fast as other varieties but has been found useful in producing hybrids. One hybrid, in particular, the Wami/Mozambique, is favored for its phenomenal growth rate. In four to six months, depending on farming methods, this variety can reach harvest size.

Why You Should Choose Mozambique Tilapia For Aquaponics

Because they are great-tasting fish, the Mozambique type is common in aquaponics systems that raise both plants and fish for food. Mozambique Tilapia have a white, mild-tasting flesh that easily appeals to consumers. The meat quality is of importance, especially if you’re raising tilapia for fillets to supply to restaurants.

In addition, they can survive even with poor water quality conditions for longer periods, such as in low dissolved oxygen (<2 mg/L) and if ammonia levels get as high as 50 mg/L. This makes the Mozambique Tilapia one of the hardiest fish to grow.

Quick Tips For Raising Mozambique Tilapia

Mozambique tilapia can thrive in water with a pH range between 5 and 9. Of the major farmed tilapia species, Mozambique is also the most tolerant of saline waters. 

When it comes to breeding, the females can release hundreds to thousands of young per spawn. In a commercial setting, this is an advantage as farmers can raise thousands of fry for stocking.

Check out the chart below on how Mozambique tilapia can be good for your aquaponic system:

Growth Rate Heavy Waste Producer Feeding Frequency Water temperature Highly Durable Lifespan
2 lbs in 1 year Yes 3-5  times a day 82 to 86 deg F Adaptable to extreme environmental conditions Up to 11 years

Nile Tilapia

Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus) is another fish native to African freshwater habitats, such as rivers, streams, and canals. In the U.S., they can be found in several states, including Arizona, Florida, Minnesota, and Mississippi. As a freshwater fish, the Nile tilapia cannot survive for long in saline waters, unlike Mozambique.

The Nile strain can live for more than a decade and grow as large as five kilograms or more. It is mostly a herbivore but with omnivorous tendencies. They prefer feeding on phytoplankton and algae but have also been seen eating insect larvae.

Why You Should Choose Nile Tilapia For Aquaponics

When your main goal of aquaponics is to grow plants and not so much on eating the fish, then the Nile tilapia should be a great choice. Most consumers don’t find their meat appealing. However, if they’re kept solely for the purpose of feeding plants, then they’re a more preferred choice because of their ability to withstand cooler temperatures.

Nile tilapia’s feeding preferences, particularly phytoplankton, also make them a cost-effective fish for aquaponics as there’s no need for special feed. 

Quick Tips for Raising Nile Tilapia

The lowest temperature considered lethal for Nile tilapia is between 51-53 deg F; the highest is at 107 deg F. Ideally, you want to maintain the temperature between 88 and 97 deg F. While they are tolerant of the cold, the tilapia can only start breeding when temperatures reach 68 deg F.

Check out the chart below on how Nile tilapia can be good for your aquaponic system:

Growth Rate Heavy Waste Producer Feeding Frequency Water temperature Highly Durable Lifespan
1-2 lbs in 7 months Yes 3 times a day 88 to 97 deg F Tolerant of cold temperatures 10 years or more

Blue Tilapia

Blue tilapia (Oreochromis aureus) is a species native to Northern and Western Africa, and the Middle East. In the U.S., this variety can be found abundant in Florida. It is aptly named because of its color.

Compared to the tilapia varieties mentioned in this article, the Blue tilapia is the cold hardiest, being able to tolerate temperatures as low as 47 deg. F. While the species thrives best in freshwater, they can also survive in salt waters.

The Blue tilapia is also the slowest growing. Compared to the other two tilapia varieties, which can reach harvest size in less than a year, Blue tilapia can take about three years. For this reason, hybrids were created to retain the cold-hardiness of the species but with an improved growth rate.

Despite the shortcomings of Blue Tilapia, they’re commonly used in aquaponics because of their tasty meat and cold-hardiness. This makes them a preferred fish when farming in cooler areas. 

Why You Should Choose Blue Tilapia For Aquaponics

The Blue Tilapia can survive a colder environment much more than a Nile Tilapia could. This is a big advantage for aquaponics practitioners because that would mean there is no expensive heating system required. 

The difference between the cold-hardiness of a Nile and Blue tilapia may not be that monumental but it matters in a commercial setting since it can save tons of money on equipment. In addition, Blue Tilapia is a great option in areas where the Wami/Mozambique hybrid is not available.

Quick Tips for Raising Blue Tilapia

The Blue tilapia prefers waters with temperatures between 54 to 90 F but can still tolerate the lowest 46 deg F and the highest 104 deg F. This species feeds primarily on phytoplankton. Adults are mostly herbivores, while the young can eat zooplankton and tiny arthropods.

Check out the chart below on how Blue tilapia can be good for your aquaponic system:

Growth Rate Heavy Waste Producer Feeding Frequency Water temperature Highly Durable Lifespan
2-4 lbs in 3 years Yes 3 times a day 54–90 °F Very cold-hardy 7 years

Conclusion: Best Tilapia for Aquaponics

There are different varieties of tilapia that can help your aquaponics system. Each one has unique characteristics that may suit your preference and aquaponics system goals. One thing these species have in common is that they are hardy and generally not fussy, making them a great fish for beginners.

Although researching the best tilapia for aquaponics systems may seem pretty straightforward, keep in mind that some states will require permits to raise certain tilapia breeds. That being said, it’s important to do your homework on the required paperwork before you purchase your fingerlings. 

To check if you need permits for your tilapia, click here.

The Campbells love finding sustainable and fun ways to increase their independence from traditional brick and motor supermarkets. Aquaponics provides a full lifecycle food source for families and a great hobby. #aquaponicslifestyle

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