Tilapia Aquaponics Basics – What to Know Before Starting It

Tilapia Aquaponics Basics

Aquaponics represents a symbiotic system where plants and fish grow together in the water. They feed each other, so there is not too much work from your side. The system is excellent for home uses, as well as water conservation and business purposes. Its growth can be significant if well looked after and maintained.

Balance is the main key in achieving success with such a scalable system. Fish will multiply and there will be more plants in the future. At times, you may need to supplement the quantity or perhaps remove some grown fish. There are, of course, a few rules to follow. More importantly, make sure you know what you want to grow in there.

When it comes to fish, tilapia aquaponics might represent the most common systems out there and for some obvious reasons. Apart from carp, tilapia is the second most farmed fish in the world, meaning it is widely available. There are more than 100 nations actually growing it. In terms of aquaponics practitioners, two out of three users stick to tilapia.

What makes tilapia suitable for aquaponics systems

There are more reasons wherefore tilapia aquaponics systems are so popular. Their wide availability is one of them. Such a system is inexpensive to start with and finding the fish is relatively simple. But then, this is not your main concern anyway, as there are a few other characteristics you should pay attention to when choosing the fish.

Ideally, you should maintain a high water quality in your system. As a newbie, you will make mistakes while you learn. Tilapia is quite forgiving from this point of view. There will be no issues whatsoever if you make mistakes. The fish is used to tolerating low water quality and it is often grown in such environments, so small mistakes will be overlooked.

Tilapia is also tolerant of crowded environments. If overcrowding occurs, the fish will not be bothered. However, your system may suffer, so you need to keep an eye on how often it multiplies. More fish will require more plants and more filtration for the system. Sure, it is great if you think about the scalable nature of the system, but pay attention to the balance.

Tilapia is easy to breed too and will not require too much work. The growing phase is not to be ignored either. The edible size of the fish is around 17 ounces. It can reach that size in around half a year – up to eight months, depending on the environment. Compared to other fish, this fish is relatively fast and will not waste time. It has flaky white flesh and a delicious taste.

Last, but not least, tilapia is not too demanding either. It is capable of turning low protein into quality protein. Therefore, the feeding profile is relatively simple. You can feed your fish nothing but pelleted food. Such food is cheap and available in large amounts, meaning the system maintenance is relatively inexpensive.

When not sure about the actual type of tilapia, you will find three main species – Nile, Blue and Mossambique tilapia. The Nile tilapia is the most common one, as well as the biggest. It grows large and fast. The Blue tilapia is the slowest growing one, while the Mossambique tilapia is the smallest in size. Its slow growth will require more maintenance and patience.

Requirements for tilapia aquaponics

A tilapia aquaponics system will obviously come with some requirements. Since tilapia is not a very demanding fish, you can get away without too much hassle. But this is the exact same reason wherefore you should try to provide the best living conditions – compared to other fish, creating a perfect environment is easy.

The water temperature should be at least 12 degrees Celsius. Based on the climate, the fish may not be suitable for some parts of the world. Sometimes, heating might be necessary. The upper limit is 42 degrees, while the optimal temperature is around 28 degrees. This is what you have to aim for. To ensure efficient heating, you might need to consider insulation as well.

In terms of dissolved oxygen, tilapia is not very demanding. In fact, the fish has grown to thrive in static ponds. Sometimes, the dissolved oxygen is reduced to a minimum in such environments. Believe it or not, the fish can survive at 3mg/L. Obviously, you do not want the fish to survive, but to thrive in your system. Try to get as close to saturation as you can.

pH requirements for tilapia are not very high either. The fish will be happy with a pH between six and nine. When it comes to the most common plants, the pH should not go below 5.5 or exceed 7.5. Everything in your tilapia aquaponics system will depend on the pH, so try to maintain it around seven for maximum efficiency – you want both the fish and the plants to be happy.

As for other substances, you should think about ammonia, nitrite and nitrate. Unionized ammonia is dangerous. Stick to 1mg/L or 2mg/L to keep the fish safe. Nitrite is not that toxic, but it should still be carefully monitored. Its management is fairly simple if you rely on biological control filters, such as a grow bed, a living root system or perhaps a dedicated bio filter. Last, but not least, the nitrate is not that dangerous for tilapia or other fish.

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Feeding fish in a tilapia aquaponics system

The tilapia fish is omnivorous. In other words, it can eat pretty much anything, from phytoplankton and insects to plants and slimes. More and more people turn to tilapia because its dietary needs are extremely attractive. You can grow the fish on a low protein diet – nothing but herbivorous options. After all, the feeding part grabs a big chunk of the profits when it comes to large farms.

If you can feed your fish with little expenses, go for it. Most people pick the easy way – commercial fish pellets. They are widely available in most pet shops and they are inexpensive – you can usually find them in large packages. Such things are also suitable for automatic feeding systems should you get one of them.

The food amount is based on the body weight per day. As your fish gets bigger, the food amount is reduced. To help you understand how it works, a large fish will metabolize the food relatively fast. It will also grow at a faster rate. On the other hand, a small fish will be slower in growth, but the speed will go up proportionally. Large fish can take pellets, but small fish will require crumbs only.

Breeding tilapia

There are two different ways to breed tilapia. The manual separation of sexes is the easiest option for newbies and small scale producers because the quantity is low. Someone with a big farm will spend ages doing it, so there are better solutions out there. Control is mandatory to prevent the tank from overcrowding. A female can come up with a few hundred fry on a monthly basis.

While cannibalism is quite common in tilapia, the fry will still keep going up. The lack of attention and control will get the fish to outweigh the capacity of the filtration system. Those with large farms can rely on a different option though. The hormone treated fry can be just as handy, but it is illegal in some countries, so do your homework.

Tilapia will develop into males or females after a few days. If they are fed food based on the methyl testosterone, they will develop into males. It may not necessarily be ethical, hence the regulation – double check the local laws first. Another option implies sticking to genetically modified males. The fish has two YY chromosomes, rather than the classic XY. Therefore, there will be no females involved.

Those interested in tilapia aquaponics systems as a business opportunity will obviously consider the scalable profile of this opportunity and try to grow their little farms. Those with such systems for personal uses will find breeding easier to handle, as the population is relatively small. From some points of view, it might be wiser to come up with multiple small systems than a big large one.

Final words

As a short final conclusion, the tilapia aquaponics system is the most popular one in this industry. Tilapia is an excellent fish for such opportunities. It is not demanding and comes with low maintenance and requirements. It grows fast and it can adapt to all kinds of environments. Ideally, you should come up with a perfect environment for its living conditions, but the point is that small mistakes will not affect it.

Apart from the low requirements, such a symbiotic system is also cost efficient. The fish is widely available and grown all over the world, meaning starting the business will not cost too much, while longterm costs are easily kept under control. Just like any other aquaponics system, this one also requires a bit of education upfront.

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