How to raise tilapia in aquaponics?

To successfully raise tilapia in aquaponics, several vital factors must come into play. Each has its role in producing healthy fish, which is essential to keep your aquaponics project running well. Through this article, I will provide you with some basic know-how for utilizing tilapia for your soilless closed system approach in raising fish and vegetables.

What are the different species of tilapia in aquaponics?

Tilapia is one of the most resilient domesticated fish species. While they are adaptable and can thrive in various environments, taking care of them is not too difficult. From here, it is easy to understand why tilapia are among the most popular fish for aquaponics, especially among novices, due to their naturally low-maintenance lifestyle. Tilapia comes in various colors and sizes and selecting which breed for aquaponics can make or break your aquaponics project.

This fact necessitates you to be familiarized with the different species of tilapia. Here are they:

Mozambique Tilapia

Mozambique tilapia (Oreochromis mossambicus) have a drab green to yellow coloration with faint banding. They have a striking resemblance to Nile tilapia and are frequently misidentified as such. The size of Mozambique tilapias varies, but adults can weigh up to 2.4 pounds and reach a length of 15 inches.

Although the Mozambique variety does not develop as quickly as other kinds, it has proven valuable in producing hybrids. The Wami/Mozambique hybrid, in particular, is valued due to its incredible growth rate. This variety can reach harvest size in four to six months, depending on cultivation methods.

Growth rate: 2-3 pounds per year

Feeding time: Thrice a day

Diet: Omnivorous -- algae, plant matter, organic particles, small invertebrates

Temperature: 72 - 86 °F (22 - 30°C)

pH range: 5 to 9

Nile Tilapia

Another fish native to African freshwater settings, such as rivers, streams, and canals, is the Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus). They can be found in various states in the United States, including Arizona, Florida, Minnesota, and Mississippi. Unlike Mozambique, the Nile tilapia is a freshwater fish that cannot thrive in saline waters for long.

The Nile strain has a life span of more than a decade and reaches weights of up to 11 pounds (five kilograms). It is primarily herbivorous but has omnivorous inclinations. Phytoplankton and algae are their preferred foods, but they have also been observed consuming insect larvae.

Growth rate: 1-2 pounds in eight months

Feeding time: Thrice a day

Diet: Omnivorous -- algae, phytoplankton, insects, and vegetables

Temperature: 89 - 97 °F (31 - 36°C)

pH range: 6 to 9

Blue Tilapia

The Blue Tilapia (Oreochromis aureus), native to Northern Africa and the Middle East, is generally blue-gray with a pink-white belly. The Blue tilapia is the coldest of the tilapia kinds discussed in this article, surviving temperatures as low as 47 degrees Fahrenheit. Although the species prefers freshwater, it may also persist in saltwater. Blue Tilapia take much slower to mature than other tilapia species and can reach a weight of 2-4 pounds in as little as three years.

Growth rate: Approximately 3-4 pounds in 3 years

Feeding time: Thrice a day

Diet: Omnivorous -- algae, phytoplankton, insects, and vegetables

Temperature: 47 - 90 °F (8 - 32°C)

pH range: 6 to 9

What is the best tilapia species for aquaponics?

Several tilapia species can benefit your aquaponics system. Each one has its own set of traits that may suit your preference and aquaponics system objectives. If you aim to profit from selling tilapia, Mozambique and Nile tilapia breeds are suggested. On the other hand, if you want to raise tilapia as part of your aquaponics system without having the desire to consume it, then the Blue tilapia works for you.

What to consider in growing tilapia in aquaponics?

Water quality

Although tilapia can survive murky water, this does not necessarily mean that you should not provide clean water to your tilapia species. Remember that the plants act as filters to purify the water that recirculates to the fish tanks in an aquaponics system. This situation suggests that even hardy fish like tilapia would require pure water. If you are also selling tilapia as edible fish to your community, you will aim to give them safe and clean edible fish.


Just like any other fish, your tilapia fish survive in water because of the presence of dissolved oxygen (do). So, it is equally vital for you to provide your tilapia with the dissolved oxygen they require. The Mozambique tilapia can survive dissolved oxygen of two mg/L. Nile tilapia, on the other hand, needs three mg/L of do. Lastly, the Blue tilapia requires dissolved oxygen of above seven mg/L.

Increase aeration by adding more air stones or switching to a larger pump if DO levels in your system are too low. There's no danger in adding too much oxygen; the extra oxygen will scatter into the air after the water is saturated. Remember that temperature profoundly influences dissolved oxygen levels: the warmer the water, the less oxygen it can store.


Proper nutrition is a requirement for you to harvest healthy and profitable tilapia. Aside from this, to design an appropriate and nutritionally adequate diet, it is necessary to grasp how fish feed naturally. Lastly, a suitable feeding regimen is also followed to ensure the fish's optimal growth and survival.

Even though tilapia is generally omnivorous, its growth stage still determines the food you should give to it.

Size of FishFood
Fry and larvaePlankton feeder
JuvenilesPlankton feeder

For commercial tilapia cultivation, pellets and mash are utilized because these are packed with nutrients and proteins. However, if you want to be more organic, you can freely feed your fish with Below are the types of tilapia foods concerning the fish size:

  1. Mash or powder form - This is given to fish weighing between 0.2 and 5.0 grams per piece. The fry mash is what it's called.
  2. Crumbles - This is given to fish weighing between 5.1 and 30.0 grams per piece. The starter's crumble is another name for it.
  3. Pellets - These are fed when the fish's mouth is large enough to ingest the smallest pellet size. Suppose your fish weigh 30.1 to 90.0g per piece, provide them with juvenile pellets. For your adult fish, above 90.0 g, the adult pellet is right for them.
  4. Dough or ball form - It is made by mixing water into the feed until a sticky mass is created.


Most fish would benefit from roughly 12 hours of light every day as a general rule. This varies based on the fish species and the aquaponics system's general environmental conditions. For your tilapia, 18 hours of light is what you should provide. Sunlight is the best natural light available for you. When nighttime comes, you should resort to using artificial light sources such as LED light.

Photosynthetically active radiation, or PAR, is the second-best lighting source for any commercial or domestic pond. These are the lights that hydroponic and aquaponic gardeners use because they provide the full spectrum of light required for plants' food-manufacturing process. PAR light sources do not emit the photons (light) that can harm cells and tissues as shorter wavelength lights.


Tilapia are more tolerant of crowded environments than most fish, although they do have their limits. Increased tilapia populations have the potential to deplete the dissolved oxygen supply quicker than it can be replenished. The quantity of fish you plan on raising determines the size of the tank. Fish tanks may be rectangular (raceway) or circular (silo).

Most growers recommend the latter over the former. One good reason is that a circular tank provides improved water circulation and flow, which enhances your fish's water quality and overall well-being. Because of the form, your fish can swim against the current, which fish love to do. It also aids in increasing the rate of gaseous exchange between the air and the water, which is beneficial to the fish's health.

The most critical aspect of your tank's form is to ensure that it permits water to flow freely. Even if you choose a rectangle-shaped tank, select one with rounded sides since, without water movement, fish excrement will accumulate in the tank's corners, causing hazardous germs to grow.

A 250 gallon (1000 liter) or larger aquaponics system appears to be the most stable if you have the space. Larger volumes are better for novices since they provide more margin for error and allow for more time for things to happen.

What are the pros and cons of growing tilapia in aquaponics?

Tilapia is a favorite choice among aquaponics practitioners, and below are some of the reasons for this:

  1. Tilapia is disease and parasite resistant.
  2. Tilapia matures more quickly than most other farmed fish.
  3. In an unfriendly water environment with little oxygen or high ammonia levels, they can survive longer.
  4. They are omnivorous and eat various animals and plants. Thus, you do not have to buy expensive fish food.
  5. In the fish tank, they are tolerant of overcrowding.

Yet, the tilapia fish has its unique challenges that you should bear in mind if you decide to include it in your aquaponics' setup:

  1. Certain countries or regions might require you to procure permits to grow and sell tilapia because this may be recognized as an invasive species. In Australia, tilapia is identified as a restricted noxious fish. Citizens are ordered not to keep, give away, sell, or release tilapia into the environment without a permit. (Ibid) Before breeding tilapia, be particular about the current legalities concerning this fish.
  2. The most marketable tilapia species, Nile and Mozambique tilapia would require warm water for their growth and development. Suppose your region is accustomed to cold weather; you should use a tank heater for breeding this fish. Such requirements would, of course, affect your electricity consumption.
  3. The fact that it can withstand overcrowding can also be an issue for you over time. If left unchecked, they can quickly overpopulate a small system with baby fish, disrupting tank operations or nibbling the roots of plants in a raft system.

How to harvest tilapia in aquaponics?

  1. Tilapia can be harvested in around 240 days (34 weeks). By this time, your tilapia fish would have to weigh 1-1.24 pounds (450-567 grams).
  2. Do not feed the fish for at least 24 hours. The waste is thrown into the water by the fish after eating. The combination of food and fish effluents will make the water murky, adding stress that the breeding and harvesting processes already put on the fish.
  3. Drain your tank in half. This setting will help you catch the fish easily since they have little room to swim and escape.
  4. Using a formidable seine, catch the tilapia and place them in another container where they will remain until they are ready to be sold.

Arguably, tilapia is a common choice in completing any type of aquaponics system. This fact is based on the simple reason that tilapia does not require much effort from you in cultivating it for commercial or personal purposes. However, this does not mean that you can breed tilapia haphazardly. As you observe the above elements I discussed, your tilapia aquaponics will have a good start and ensure a satisfying yield. So what are your thoughts about this? Let me know in the comments below.

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