Fish are a compulsory (but often neglected) component of EVERY aquaponic system. In fact, without the fish the symbiotic relationship that sets this method apart from others such as hydroponics would not exist. Waste produced by the fish is converted by bacteria into nutrients that serve as the perfect diet for the plants. That’s why today, we thought we would discuss the story behind tilapia in India. But first and foremost…
What is tilapia?
Tilapia is the common name for several species of freshwater fish that originated in the Africa or the Middle East. It is the most traded fish for food purposes in the world. Currently, tilapia plays an important role in aquaculture (fish farming), because the tilapia is well-suited to aquaculture environments:
- They are not carnivorous. That means they can feed on algae and other plant-based foods, thereby reducing the cost of farming, reducing the need to deplete “prey” species, and avoiding the high concentrations of toxins that accumulate as you go up the food chain. (In this way they are like “aquatic chickens.”)
- Tilapia are relatively large in size.
- They grow quickly, meaning that they reach maturity and are ready to be harvested faster than other fish.
- Tilapia can survive on a diet of scraps, seaweed, or other natural waste – they do not necessarily require commercial feed, making them a low-cost, high-profit option for farmers.
- Can survive even in polluted waters.
- They tolerate crowding, so they do not require as much aquarium space as other species.
- They have a pleasant taste and they offer a lot of meat.
- They have low mercury levels.
- They are a great source of protein.
Today, a number of species of tilapia have been bred specifically for aquaculture environments. One such strain, known as GIFT (Genetic Improvement of Farmed Tilapia) has been developed by scientists at the WorldFish Center and is currently being grown and harvested around the globe. This species is faster to develop and much heartier than other species. GIFT (also known as Super Tilapia) was created through selective breeding methods; it is NOT genetically modified or transgenic.
What About Tilapia in India?
Tilapia species were introduced into water systems India as early as 1952. The fish became popular in southern states such as Tamil Nadu and Kerala, but due to the fast breeding rate of the fish it was not considered a successful move. The result was stunting, overpopulation and displacement of other species of fish. At that time, the adaptable and quick-breeding species spread all over the country, posing a threat to a number of ecosystems. In 1959, The Fisheries Research Committee of India banned the breeding of tilapia.
Another species of tilapia was introduced in India in the late 1970s, but the effect has been much less significant as the previous species. Today, it is estimated that tilapia accounts for approximately 7% of the fish species in the entire Ganges river system.
As the demand for fish increases, tilapia in India now show great potential to feed a nation. In Chennai, some strains have been successfully grown and sold commercially. In the wetlands of Kolkata, other farmers are growing tilapia on a commercial scale in waste water. Committees are investigating the potential of introducing strains such as GIFT tilapia in India.