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What To Look For When Buying Tilapia (Easy Guide)

Tilapia For Sale

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Tilapia is without a doubt one of the best fish species to raise in aquaponics systems or when used for other purposes. Its growth rate is relatively faster than other edible or ornamental fish, and it survives in varying environmental conditions. Most aquaponics practitioners choose to purchase tilapia fingerlings for their system instead of rearing them due to the time required and level of difficulty. While some aquaponics stores offer affordable tilapia fingerlings; however, some sell smaller grades at higher prices. For this reason, being equipped with the basic knowledge of fingerling sizes and other vital facts is necessary before buying tilapia.

There are three common fish grades that aquaponics practitioners should know about before choosing which fingerlings should be used for their system. These are the food-grade, pond grade, and aquaponics grade. Aside from these, the following factors should also be considered when buying tilapia: 

  1. Fingerling condition
  2. Broodstock size
  3. Hatching date
  4. Number of fingerlings available
  5. Hatcher reputation
  6. Transporting fingerlings
  7. Costs

In this article, we will discuss some useful facts that growers should know before placing their orders of tilapia fingerlings. The three tilapia grades and other factors that should be kept in mind while purchasing are also explained in detail below. 

Understanding tilapia grading

Grading fish is a management practice used in most fish farms. Knowledge of fingerling grading is necessary to ensure better tilapia production. For instance, if the aquaponics system’s primary focus is harvesting fish, using food-grade tilapia is suggested. On the other hand, if the goal is to grow a balance of fish and plants, the aquaponics grade fingerlings are the best option.

Food grade

food grade tilapia

The food-grade or fast growth rate fingerlings are excellent for commercial harvesting because these tilapia grow rapidly compared to other sizes. Most tilapia of this grade are male since all their food intake is used for growth and they grow twice as fast as the female tilapia. According to FAO, in choosing to grow an all-male batch, the suggested size of male broodstock is 12 centimeters because they are mature enough to sex. They also produce fish which can grow up to 200 to 250 grams in 6 months.

Also, this grade of tilapia is more profitable, especially if the practitioner’s goal is primarily to harvest fish from his aquaponics system. Since they grow fast, they can also produce enough waste to help the plants grow.

Pond grade

Pond Grade Tilapia

The pond grade tilapia is known for its slow growth. It is not suitable for commercial fish farming or aquaponics systems because the fish do not grow bigger than six inches, and it would take years to reach this size. Because of this, they only function as pond cleaners by consuming algae present in ponds and other nuisance. 

Aquaponics grade

Aquaponics grade tilapia

The aquaponics grade tilapia or the mixed growth rate is what most practitioners grow in recirculating systems. They can be harvested at different times, so the growers won’t have to worry about not having enough stock in their system to produce fish waste for the plants’ nutrients. However, it is essential to note that if the goal of building the aquaponics unit is to harvest tilapia and sell it commercially, the food grade is still the best option.

Things to consider before buying tilapia

Before looking for tilapia for sale from online and local aquaponics stores, it is not enough to just have an idea of tilapia grade and species. Farmers should also learn about simple but useful details that every wise buyer should apply in looking for tilapia fingerlings. This is because we cannot deny that some hatchers still sell rejects and tag them as fingerlings. These hatchers still market rejects with undesirable traits to gain profit, so learning about these considerations is crucial.

Fingerling condition

When looking for tilapia for sale, the health condition of the fingerlings should be the farmer’s primary focus. Healthy tilapia fingerlings actively swim, and they make upward and downward motions through using their tails. Farmers should avoid buying fingerlings with a bloated stomach, white patches all over the body, and look quite dull.

Broodstock size

The broodstock size matters because it indicates how large the fingerlings will grow. When choosing which hatchery to purchase tilapia fingerlings, check out the broodstock used in hatching to gauge the size of tilapia to be grown in the system. Request the hatcher to show you their broodstock tanks, if possible.

Hatching date

It is always a good idea to look for hatching records to identify the age of the fingerlings. It is hard to fully trust the words of a hatcher because some miscalculate or change the hatching date to sell more. By asking for the date of hatching, you can assess whether the fingerling has grown into an acceptable size or it is not suitable for stocking in your unit.

Number of fingerlings available

Avoid buying the last batch of fingerlings from hatcheries. Since most hatchers advertise early, some farmers purchase their tilapia fingerlings right away. They choose the larger ones from the batch to ensure that they harvest bigger fish. What is left on the hatching tanks are smaller fingerlings. These are not suggested, especially for commercial aquaponics that focuses more on fish.

Hatcher reputation

The hatcher reputation is also something to be considered when purchasing tilapia for sale. Farmers should ask around about the reputation of the hatcher and the standard he holds in hatching fingerlings. Some hatchers carefully select their broodstock and make sure that they don’t sell runts while others sell about any fingerling even if some have undesirable traits. 

Transporting fingerlings

It is also essential to find out beforehand how the hatcher will transport the fingerlings you bought to your aquaponics set-up location. Whether through bus or air freight, the seller must inform you of what materials will be needed for transport and who will arrange the delivery, especially if you purchased it online. Most of the materials used for transport such as oxygen, fish bags, and cases are available in Amazon, so it should be clarified with the hatcher who will shoulder the purchase of all these items.

Costs of tilapia

The final but equally important thing to consider when finding tilapia for sale on the internet and in hatcheries near you is to compare costs. Some hatchers tend to overprice if they have assessed that the buyer does not have any idea on fingerling pricing. In an article published by, they have compared the price of tilapia from different online stores. The price varies from $58.50 to $170, non-inclusive of the shipping fee. Of course, to avoid the shipping cost, buying from local hatcheries is suggested.


There are many things to consider before buying tilapia for sale that are advertised on the web and locally. A wise farmer should keep all these things in mind to ensure that only the best quality tilapia is purchased. The three tilapia grades are food-grade, aquaponics grade, and pond grade. Other factors that should be looked into are fingerling condition, broodstock size, hatching date, number of fingerlings available, hatcher reputation, transporting, fingerlings, and cost. Knowing at least three hatcheries that offer the best quality fingerlings is advantageous in the long run.

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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