Never heard of Tilapia…?
If not, you soon will. This once little known and overlooked fish is fast becoming a seafood favourite for consumers around the world with around 3 million metric tons produced annually.
It is now the second largest species of fish farmed (after carp) worldwide. In the West its popularity with health-savvy shoppers is largely driven by its high protein content of around 23 grams per 4-ounce serving (nearly half our recommended daily total) and palatability. It is also a major focus for aquaculture because of its large size, rapid growth (6 to 7 months growing to harvest size) and the fact that it eats a mostly vegetarian-based diet, which eliminates the need to harvest wild fish to feed them.
Fish farming is the world’s fastest growing food production sector. By 2018, more seafood will be farmed than caught from the wild.
Tilapia is also relatively resistant to disease, which can help reduce or eliminate the need for chemicals or antibiotics. As a whole, tilapia has fewer ecological impacts than other farmed species, making them a good seafood choice. So much so, it is now one of the most popular farmed fish in the United States.
With almost 75 percent of the world’s tilapia coming from farms (instead of being wild-caught), the ease with which it can be reared and its ability to turn corn and soya into low-cost seafood, it is unsurprising that tilapia is known in the industry as ‘aquatic chicken’ and hailed as the perfect ‘factory fish’. Indeed it reaches its sales weight of about two pounds in roughly only nine months of intensive feeding.
As it develops, the young and rapidly growing tilapia industry is getting to grips with the challenges of responsibly farming such a sought after fish by improving standards and toughening regulation. In 2009 the World Wildlife Fund and the Aquaculture Stewardship Council announced the world’s first standards for tilapia farming aimed at allowing the industry to grow while minimising its potential impacts, such as non-native tilapia being introduced and chemicals being released into the water.
Talapia Farm, Miami
The Dutch sustainable trade program, IDH, has rolled out an inspection program for tilapia farms independent of the industry. Those that choose to participate — and pass — will receive labels identifying their product as “responsibly farmed.” In 2012, ASC celebrated the market launch of its global, independent trademark for responsibly farmed seafood, with tilapia from Indonesia being the first farmed fish to meet the ASC’s certification standard.
Proponents say tilapia aquaculture will only grow in importance because it provides food and jobs in a world of declining fish stocks and rising population. Benchmark Holdings CEO, Malcolm Pye, commented:
“Fish farming is the world’s fastest growing food production sector. By 2018, more seafood will be farmed than caught from the wild. Already, almost half of seafood sold to consumers comes from farms and we have a responsibility to ensure this is produced responsibly and ethically.”
Aquaculture production of tilapia by country (million tons) Source: The FAO, 1950–2009
Benchmark has an important role to play here. Our recent move into the tilapia breeding and genetics space give us a platform from which we can provide solutions to the industry which integrate the key components of animal health, genetics, animal husbandry, health products and nutrition.