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Tilapia Farming in Lakes, Cages, and Tanks

Mary is a tilapia farmer in Brazil. Through her articles, she shares insights and tips to make your farm more profitable.

Tilapia for sale

Tilapia for sale

Tilapia Farming in Brazil

Before arriving in Brazil, I had never heard of tilapia. There were a few in the lake in front of our new home when we arrived, and after a year, we decided to net the lake and sell the fish. These sold very quickly, and it was at that point we started to seriously think about raising them to sell commercially. In this state in Northern Brazil, there is a requirement for 40% more tilapia because of the growing domestic market.

We now have over 10,000 fish and are set to double this number in the next few months. We are currently using three methods here on our farm: free swimming, in cages. and in purpose-built tanks.

Digging tilapia lakes with a tractor

Digging tilapia lakes with a tractor

Raising Tilapia

Tilapia can be raised in ponds, lakes or tanks. We have chosen to dig lakes, which are fed by the water table. There are several lagoons in the area, some are deeper than others. We wanted to make sure we would still have water at the driest time of year so we could keep producing fish, albeit in smaller quantities.

Some tilapia farms lined their lakes with clay. These are then continually filled with water and then drained when the fish have been sold. Our lakes use the water table and are therefore cheaper to run as we don't have the added expense of pumping water to fill them.

Lake and Pond Aeration

Because of the quantity of fish in our lake, we needed aeration. The wind, which is a constant for several months of the year here, will add oxygen to the water by breaking the water's surface tension. With extra added oxygen, we will be able to farm more fish and make more money. Without aeration, ammonia builds up as a result of fish waste. The aeration promotes aerobic bacteria that clean the lake and reduce ammonia.
There are several different methods for aeration. Here in Brazil, we have seen the paddle aerators that sit on the surface of the water. Think of a paddleboat going down the Mississippi River, and you will understand what I mean.
Some aerators sit on the surface and push air down, while others sit on or near the bottom and deliver air through a diffuser that spreads bubbles over a large area.
Some windmills will aerate ponds and lakes. These are excellent ideas when there is no electricity present. Solar panels can be used to drive a small pump to circulate water.

Tilapia cages and aerator

Tilapia cages and aerator

Tilapia Fish Cages

The cages we use are plastic coated chain link. This is on a metal frame, and we have used 4 x 50L plastic bottles to keep each afloat. These cages are 3m x 2m and can take 900 fish each.

We have also bought others that are on a wooden frame with heavy gauge plastic netting as the cage. These will be used for our new fish as the holes are too small to allow a 30g fish to pass through. These are 2m X 2m and 1.2 meters deep. At maximum water level, they can take up to 600 fish.

Feeding Cost of Tilapia

The cost of food to feed tilapia is high. We have seen many people digging lakes here to put the tilapia in, but they don't realize that you have to provide food for them for 6-8 months without a return on your money. Once you have all your equipment, the cost of the food is the greatest expense. As such, we have sought different methods of feeding. We are currently using duckweed which is a floating plant. We have constructed ponds to grow this, and we feed this to our fish every other day. This has cut our food bill down drastically.

The other option is to feed every other day. Your fish will grow slower, but it is estimated that in the same time frame, your fish will be 10% smaller. If you have the time to leave them longer, you will save more money feeding them every other day.

Another viable option is delayed feeding. If your pond or lake is rich with algae, you can delay feeding your young fish for two months. They will gorge on algae and save you the cost of two months worth of commercial feed.

A Bit More Information About Tilapia

In parts of Asia, they will put tilapia in the flooded rice fields. When the rice is ready to pick, the tilapia are also ready to catch.

The type we have are an African Nile variety. This variety grows fast and is slower to breed than others. Although new to the western palate, the tilapia were farmed in Ancient Egypt.

They are very hardy and can survive in water temperatures to 40° Celsius (104°F). Although for optimal growing, it should be 28-30° Celsius (82-86°F). In parts of America, they use tilapia as a low-cost method to keep the algae down in the water systems.

Tilapia eat a variety of foods and, as such, are an economical fish to feed. In some areas, farmers will add manure to the water to encourage algae to grow. The fish then eat the algae, as mentioned previously. This is much cheaper than commercial fish foods.

Mistakes to Avoid When Raising Them

As newbies to fish farming, we have made some mistakes and are now rectifying these.

Our first mistake was putting the fish into the lake without cages. We were advised to do this, but there are a few problems with this method.

The first issue is that tilapia can begin to breed at four months. They build nests which are depressions in the sand. See the photo below. This makes the bottom uneven for netting purposes and allows the fish to pass below the fishing net. It also leads to erosion of the banks.

The second is that this increases the amount of fish in the lake which are competing for food. So the original stock we paid for are getting less food and hence growing less. We have been advised that this leads to stunted growth in fish. The answer to this is to net it frequently to remove as many fish as possible. We are doing this several times a week at the moment and putting the fish we catch into cages. We have noticed the fish are smaller, but once they are in cages, they continue to put on weight. Although not as big, they are equally as heavy, and they are sold by weight, not by size.

We have also introduced peacock bass and other predator fish into the lake. They will help control the numbers by eating the young ones.

Tilapia nests

Tilapia nests

Protecting Your Hands

If you're working with tilapia, you'll need to wear gloves. When caught in a net, they splay their dorsal fin. This will damage your hands if you aren't wearing a suitable pair of gloves. Also, to secure the fish before removing it from the net, I insert my index finger into its mouth and with my thumb in the gills. This locks the fish in my fingers, allowing my other hand to work the line free. Tilapia have a serrated mouth, and removing one fish isn't a problem. But try 20, 50 or 100, and with them thrashing and trying to escape, the wet skin on your thumb will be raw by the end of the day!

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Questions & Answers

Question: Do you have experience with the African predatory catfish?

Answer: No, it isn't one I have seen here. Are you planning on using it to control your tilapia population or rearing it to sell?

Question: Are you familiar with an organization called 'Staying Alive is Not Enough'? There is a meme on Facebook that talks bad about Tilapia. It says Dioxin is found in Tilapia. Can you refer me to studies which disprove this?

Answer: No, I am not familiar with the organization you mention. However, untrue memes on Facebook and other social media need to be addressed as people read them and it starts a knee-jerk reaction.

If you are familiar with the website Snopes, they have written an article which provides links to the FDA, a Harvard professor of nutrition, and the US National Institute of Health which sheds a more balanced approach to the information about tilapia.

Unfortunately many people today, prefer to have their information in bitesize pieces and don't want to do the research or read potentially lengthy medical journals. The adage of 'everything in moderation' still holds true today.

© 2011 Mary Wickison


Mary Wickison (author) from USA on August 01, 2020:

You should have a continual flow of water in and out.

You will also likely need aeration. Some of this will be supplied by the water flowing in but it's likely you'll need more. This will depend on the size of the pond, number of fish, amount of wind etc.

When you harvest your fish, drain the pond for cleaning before beginning again.

Only you can answer if it will be good for a commercial purpose. That will depend on if you can make a profit from it. Factor in the cost of fish, the feed they will require, the cost of electricity (if necessary) to supply the water, also the cost of aeration. Also decide on your set up costs, and equipment.

Xmond Afful on August 01, 2020:

I’m starting a concrete tilapia fish pond , how offen do I need to change the water And I want to know if it’s good for commercial purpose

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on April 07, 2020:

Hello Mary, I am a tilapia fisher man. I catch the wild ones in salt water. Here in the Niger Delta, it would be difficult for an individual to farm them as you did. The coastal tide is always rising and falling. Therefore, government ministry of fisheries, or boards are the responsible. Thanks for sharing.

Mary Wickison (author) from USA on February 09, 2018:

Hi Ale,

I have changed the settings on the page and you can contact me.

If you look at my profile, you will see a link to contact the author.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Ale on February 05, 2018:

Hi there. We live in Ceara and we have a small tilapia farm too. Can we meet to share experience?

Mary Wickison (author) from USA on August 27, 2017:

Hello Kaung,

I am pleased my experience on our farm was useful to you. Good luck to you in your fish farming.

Kaung Myat on August 26, 2017:

Thanks to your idea, Author. It will be very valuable information for me. Thanks a million.

Mary Wickison (author) from USA on May 18, 2017:

Hi Gary,

Yes, it is something we considered doing. The biggest downfall is where we live, our UV index is in the extreme category. Plus we get strong winds so only very hardy plants can withstand that. Also where we live, is rural and the local market is only strong for products they have been consuming all their lives. It is very hard to introduce new veg without a sustained advertising campaign. We raise 10,000 tilapia and we don't have workers here. It is just myself and my husband who is 67 and an amputee. The extra work would be just too much for us.

I do agree, for someone who is younger, it is something which could be very profitable.

Our farm is now for sale because we are finding it all too much.

Gary O. on May 17, 2017:

Why are you wasting the best part of the fish?

Have you never looked at Aquaponics?

You can grow, 60,000 fish, and so many tons of produce, and the produce is free, as the fish have given them everything they need to grow.

Mary Wickison (author) from USA on January 18, 2016:

Hi Bill,

Yes and no. We did for a few years. Four years of drought and counting have made us rethink our plans. We now are coconut farmers. We have planted 400+ dwarf coconut trees for the coconut water. We have another year to go before they will be producing.

One thing about us farmers, we need to stay flexible with our plans.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on January 18, 2016:

I was just reading on your profile that you raise these fish for a business? How goodness, the things I don't know. Volumes! :) Anyway, from one small farmer to you, bravo!

Mary Wickison (author) from USA on January 22, 2015:

Hi JrPierce,

You're very welcome, I am pleased it was of use to you.

Thanks for stopping by.

Jaymie from Ellijay, Ga on January 21, 2015:

This is very informative. I have been wanting to learn more about raising tilapia. Thanks for the information.

Mary Wickison (author) from USA on September 30, 2014:

Hello Kago,

I'm so pleased it has given you the inspiration to try a few different things. As for the grass, I don't know what is available there but I would say one which doesn't require a lot of water and is hardy. If it is going to have a lot of foot traffic or possibly vehicle traffic across it, the more robust the better.

If you decide to try fish farming, take a look at a page I have here on Hubpages about duckweed. That can cut your feed bill by half.

Good luck with your plans.

Kago on September 25, 2014:

Wow, wow, husband and I bought a small farm near a small town in Botswana, Southern Africa. We've wondering what we will do with it since 2012. Now that we came across this info you shared we'll definitely put some of it into practise..esp the camping idea..the farm is situated near a hotel that doesn't do camping etc as well a tourist area. Thanks a million times im so interested in the tilapia idea as well..we could supply the hotel, lodges nearby. Remain blessed. Oh wait by the way what kind of green grass or landscaping is ideal and cheaper for use on farm grounds after levelling...thanks again.

Mary Wickison (author) from USA on February 20, 2011:

Thank you, it is new to us but we are eager to learn and always up for a challenge.

Jeannie Marie from Baltimore, MD on February 19, 2011:

I wish you the best of luck with your tilapia farm. This was a really interesting hub.