Egyptian fish farmers 4,000 years ago raised tilapia in ponds along the Nile.
Two thousand years ago Jesus Christ gave sermons about tilapia to people who cast their nets for tilapia to feed their families and sell in markets. The fish played a lead role in the New Testament story of the “Miracle of the Loaves and the Fishes.” While the miracle of feeding multitudes with five loaves and just two fish is the popular account, more likely Jesus was teaching about raising Tilapia through aquaculture.
Today Tilapia and Carp are said to be the world’s most farmed fish. While practically unknown in North America a decade ago, Americans now consume 475 million pounds of tilapia annually. Most of it comes from farms in China and Latin America, though more and more it is domestically farmed.
Tilapia provides valuable protein and contains heart-healthy Omega 3 fatty acids, though not quite as much as one finds in salmon or mackerel.
As our ocean pastures collapse along with wild fish stocks, tilapia may come to the rescue. The respected consumer-advisory organization, Seafood Watch, gives farmed tilapia its famed “best choice” designation.
Farmers typically buy tilapia once a year as ‘fry’, barely an inch long. They are easy to raise: they thrive in crowded conditions, can tolerate water with low oxygen, and, unlike many other farmed fish, they are cheap to feed because they are mostly vegetarians.
Over the course of a year the fish grow to two or three pounds. Here in North America they sell whole for about $5 a pound.
Farmed Tilapia are about to see a enormous boost in production thanks to a project in a new Brazilian reservoir.
Tilapia farming in the Itaipu hydroelectric reservoir could help more than double fish production across the country.
“The farming of tilapia behind the Itaipu dam seeks to obtain a production of 400,000 tonnes just in that one hydroelectric reservoir. Today, the entire country produces ~500,000 tonnes,” said the Minister Marcelo Crivella during the opening of the 1st Regional Meeting of the Federal Fisheries and Aquaculture Superintendents in the South and Southeast areas.
About 4,000 tonnes of fish are produced in Itaipu at present, “but this number should reach 400,000 tonnes,” the minister stated.
For his part, Itaipu director general, Jorge Samek, highlighted it is proven that tilapia does not cause any environmental impacts. “It is found in large numbers in the river Paranapanema, and it is not predatory or carnivorous.”
“We have 135,000 hectares of water and a scientific basis that can contribute to aquaculture development,” he stressed.
In March, Samek received a petition with 1,800 signatures to launch tilapia farming in the reservoir. This request was transferred to Crivelli, who received other requests directly from the fishermen.
Meanwhile, Ivo dos Santos, of the Association of Artisanal Fishermen of Guaira and Region, explained that the artisanal fishing of declining stocks of wild fish in the river no longer offers a livelihood.
“If tilapia is released, our income will improve. We hope there is also an improvement in the release of resources for them to reach the fisherman’s hands,” he added.
Today there are 800 registered fishermen associated with the Itaipu dam, but it is estimated that the actual number is much higher.
“A farmer produces a tonne of meat per year per hectare. In Itaipu we can produce 200 tonnes of fish per hectare per year. Itaipu is exemplary as to fish production with sustainability and environmental safety,” stressed MPA head.
Every time you choose tilapia to eat you are saving wild fish from being driven to extinction.
Ready for dinner?
Here’s some delicious tilapia dishes click the photo to link to the recipe.