Illustration of Tilapia

Tilapia

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Ocean Wise Recommended

Ocean Wise

Variety

Tilapia

Oreochromis spp., Sarotherodon spp.,Tilapia spp.

Method

Farmed

Pond

Location

Ecuador

Overall Rating

6.9 / 10

Summary

Tilapia is the second most important farmed fish in the world, and its popularity has been increasing. Tilapia farming efforts in Ecuador began when shrimp production suffered due to disease outbreaks. Nowadays, all tilapia exported to the US are farmed together with shrimp in the same pond.

Tilapia are fast-growing fish, tolerant of a large range of temperatures and salinities, and omnivorous. They do not require large amounts of animal protein to grow. These characteristics make them ideal candidates for aquaculture. Tilapia farms produce a moderate amount of waste water, and less than half of this volume is discharged into the environment after treatment. Although each individual farm does not release substantial amounts of waste to the environment, the effect of numerous farms is of concern. Also, farms sites occupy ecologically important habitat that could otherwise support wildlife. In terms of chemicals, contamination of the environment from the farms is minimal, as they are used rarely. The potential for escaped tilapia is somewhat concerning given their ability to adapt well to a broad range of habitats. However, escapes can be controlled with good management.

Tilapia ponds have a minimal impact on other species since non-lethal methods are used to prevent predator attacks. The transmission of disease from the farms to wild populations has not been observed. This may be because disease outbreaks are managed with low stocking densities, and efficient water treatment. Farm records are a good source of data on tilapia aquaculture. Scientific information is scarce, but the farm records are considered to be sufficient for the management of the fishery. Licencing and siting regulations have limited aquaculture industry size and concentration in Ecuador.

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Ocean Wise Recommended

Ocean Wise

Variety

Blue Tilapia

Oreochromis aureus

Method

Farmed

Raceway

Location

Peru

Overall Rating

6.9 / 10

Summary

Tilapia are native to Africa but have been introduced to many places worldwide. They are the fourth most consumed fish in the US. Tilapia are not native to Peru but have become fully ecologically established since 1962. Tilapia aquaculture operations in Peru produced 3174 mt in 2012. Although there are several aquaculture methods used to produce tilapia in Peru, only the raceway-produced tilapia are exported to the US market.

The raceways operate with a flow-through system. Excess feed and fish waste is collected for treatment before water is released for agricultural use. There is moderate concern over the compliance and enforcement of effluent regulations. As the industry is small, cumulative impacts of the operations is not a high concern. Chemicals such as antibiotics and parasiticides are not used.

No escape events have been observed since all effluent must exit through a treatment plant which is fatal to any escapes. No diseases have affected the tilapia as best aquaculture practices are implemented. In the absence of disease and escapes, there is almost no potential for negative interactions with the wild populations.

Data was available on Mexican production. However, this data was collected over a short timescale of one year, and it is unclear whether this remains representative long-term. Little data is available in Indonesia. However, moderately effective effluent monitoring is performed in both Mexico and Indonesia. Much of the data available on the Peruvian tilapia operations is anecdotal and unverifiable. Broodstock is sourced from domestic fish. This means that no pressure is applied on wild populations of tilapia to stock the aquaculture operations. Tilapia are a vegetarian species and rely on low quantities of fish meal. About 0.6lbs of fish meal are used to produce 1lb of tilapia

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Ocean Wise Recommended

Ocean Wise

Variety

Nile tilapia

Oreochromis niloticus

Method

Farmed

Open net pen

Location

Mexico, Indonesia

Overall Rating

5.6 - 5.8 / 10

Summary

Tilapia are native to Africa but have been introduced to many places worldwide. They are the fourth most consumed fish in the US. This report covers tilapia production by Regal Springs in Mexico and Indonesia. Tilapia production started in Mexico in the 1980’s for domestic consumption. In 1988, Regal Springs started farming in Indonesia and produced 50,000 mt in 2013. In 2008, Regal Springs began operations in Mexico with two farmed sites. Regal Springs represents 100% of Indonesian tilapia exports to the US and 90-95% of Mexican tilapia exports to the US.

The risk of escapes in open net pen systems is high. However, since the tilapia in Mexico are located in artificial reservoirs where there is a historically introduced tilapia population, there are no wild and native tilapia populations which the farmed operation can affect. In Indonesia, farmed tilapia can potentially interact with the wild tilapia populations that were established through fishery enhancement projects. Additionally, Regal Springs uses the carcass and internal organs for other feeds which reduces the amount of fish product wasted. Pathogens and parasite occurrences are rare due to effective health management plans, but the nature of open net pen farming systems inherently raises the risk of disease spread. In Indonesia, farmed tilapia can pass on diseases and parasites to wild tilapia. Predators mortality is minimal.

Effluent is regularly monitored, and the farming operations are located in artificially created reservoirs. This means that the open net pens cannot impact any natural ecosystems. Almost no chemicals are used. Data was available on Mexican production. However, this data was collected over a short timescale of one year, and it is unclear whether this remains representative long-term. Little data is available in Indonesia. However, moderately effective effluent monitoring is performed in both Mexico and Indonesia. Broodstock is sourced from domestic fish. This means that no pressure is applied on wild populations of tilapia to stock the aquaculture operations. Tilapia are a vegetarian species and rely on low quantities of fish meal. About 0.37lbs of fish meal are used to produce 1lb of tilapia.

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Ocean Wise Recommended

Ocean Wise

Variety

Tilapia

Oreochromis spp., Sarotherodon spp.,Tilapia spp.

Method

Farmed

Recirculating aquaculture system (RAS)

Location

US

Overall Rating

8.8 / 10

Summary

Tilapia is the second most important farmed fish in the world, and is the fourth most consumed fish in the US. Most tilapia is imported, and the tilapia that is produced in the US is consumed domestically.

Tilapia are fast-growing fish, tolerant of a large range of temperatures and salinities, and omnivorous. They do not require large amounts of animal protein to grow. These characteristics make them ideal candidates for aquaculture. Closed system aquaculture of tilapia has minimal impact on other species. This is because the tilapia are either farmed indoors, or in ponds protected with roofs. In the case of outdoors farms, predators are deterred with non-lethal methods. The risk of escape from a closed system is extremely low.

There is much research done on tilapia. However, the information is not widely available, and is not updated frequently. Improvements on the data regarding the tilapia aquaculture operations would help to better manage the industry’s environmental impacts. The farm operations are moderately well managed. The use of chemicals is strictly regulated in order to minimize contact with the environment. In the event of disease or parasitic infestation, the damage is contained to the aquaculture farm, as the tilapia are raised in a closed system. Waste water is either re-used in agriculture or treated.

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Ocean Wise Recommended

Ocean Wise

Variety

Nile tilapia

Oreochromis niloticus

Method

Farmed

Recirculating aquaculture system (RAS)

Location

Worldwide

Overall Rating

7 / 10

Summary

Recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) are similar for various farmed species. This recommendation applies to all species grown in RAS except for those where a separate species-specific RAS recommendation is available. Closed containment has recently emerged in the farming industry as an alternative to net pens in order to reduce the environmental impacts of an aquaculture system that is open to the environment.

Source of stock is domesticated broodstock for the vast majority of RAS farms. Therefore wild populations are not depleted to source the aquaculture operations. Impacts of feed use vary amongst RAS farms and the species being cultured.

The contained nature of RAS allows for close control and prevention of potential disease or parasite outbreaks. Risk of pathogens and their transfer to wild populations is low. Predator and wildlife mortalities are virtually eliminated when RAS systems are located indoors, and risk of escapes is low as the systems are not in direct contact with natural water bodies.

About 90-99% of water is typically recirculated after filtration and waste treatment. As such, little to no effluent is discharged to the environment and there is the opportunity to treat waste before discharge. The closed design of RAS and the application of biosecurity protocols reduce the risk of disease and parasites, and consequently require low use of chemicals. When chemicals are used, they cannot flow into the environment directly, and have the opportunity to be treated and sterilized before discharge. RAS farms are typically not built in sensitive habitats, and the closed system of the farms minimizes ecosystem impacts.

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Ocean Wise Recommended

Ocean Wise

Variety

Nile tilapia

Oreochromis niloticus

Method

Farmed

Open net pen

Location

Honduras

Overall Rating

6.27 / 10

Summary

Nile tilapia is farmed in floating cages in lakes in Honduras. In 2015, the US imported more than 496,000lbs of tilapia. Small quantities of chemicals are used, but are treated before disposal in order to minimize environmental impact. The fish meal and fish oil that the tilapia are fed are sourced from byproducts. Although the risk of escapes is high due to the nature of net pens, tilapia populations have already been established in Honduras, and as such, escapes would have no impact on the ecosystem. Of some concern is possible effluent and habitat impacts of the nile tilapia farm operations.

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Ocean Wise Recommended

Ocean Wise

Eco-Certification:

Naturland

Variety

Tilapia

Oreochromis spp

Method

Farmed

Various

Location

Worldwide

Eco-Certification

Naturland

Summary

In 2012 Seafood Watch completed a comprehensive study of different eco-certification programs to determine if any would be equivalent to their sustainability standards. As a result of this study this aquaculture eco-certification were determined to be equivalent to an Ocean Wise recommendation. Learn more about our recommendation policy here.

 

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  • Various

Variety

Tilapia

Oreochromis niloticus, O.niloticus x

Method

Farmed

Pond

Location

China

Overall Rating

5.3 / 10

Summary

China is the leading producer of farmed tilapia. Almost half of this tilapia is exported as frozen fillets to the US, where consumption of tilapia has increased recently. Most of the aquaculture operations are located in southern China since the warmer climate allows for year-round production.

Although tilapia is a highly invasive species, they are already established in the wild, and therefore the impact of potential escapes is only moderate. The farmed tilapia are also sourced from hatcheries, and therefore do not deplete wild stock. Negative effects on predator populations that may be attracted to tilapia ponds have not been observed. Disease however, could possibly spread to wild populations due to lack of waste water regulations.

Tilapia are fast-growing fish, tolerant of a large range of temperatures and salinities, and omnivorous. They do not require large amounts of animal protein to grow. These characteristics make them ideal candidates for aquaculture. Scientific assessments of the aquaculture operation are few, and are mostly published in Chinese. This makes the data not only sparse, but relatively unavailable. The cumulative effect of numerous tilapia farms is not assessed in China. Regulations and enforcement surrounding licensing and site selection are weak.

Individual farms do not release substantial amounts of waste water to the ecosystem, but the cumulative effect of China’s numerous farms is potentially harmful. Of serious concern is the use of illegal chemicals including antibiotics, toxic chemicals, and hormones. Ponds are typically located in agricultural areas, but their presence can result in a reduction of ecosystem services due to landscape fragmentation.

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Variety

Tilapia

Oreochromis mossambicus, O. niloticus, Oreochromis spp.

Method

Farmed

Pond

Location

Taiwan

Overall Rating

4.12 / 10

Summary

Taiwan produced 73,342 mt of tilapia in 2012, more than half of which was exported to the US. Waste water from the ponds can reach natural water bodies, and enforcement around effluent is poor. Habitat damage can occur due to the large number of ponds affecting soil salinity, as well as the over-pumping of groundwater. There is evidence that illegal chemicals are used in the tilapia aquaculture operations which is a serious concern. The cumulative environmental impact of multiple farms is not taken into consideration. As tilapia are a vegetarian fish, they do not rely on high amounts of fish protein for feed. The farms do not deplete wild populations of tilapia as the broodstock is domesticated.

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Variety

Tilapia

Oreochromis spp.

Method

Farmed

Open net pen

Location

Columbia

Overall Rating

3.96 / 10

Summary

With an annual production of approximately 52,000 MT, Colombia is one of the world’s largest producers. Approximately 30,000 metric tons (i.e., more than half of Colombia’s total production) is produced in floating net pens in the Betania Reservoir in the Department of Huila.

 

In 2015, the government in the Department of Huila has begun a project to improve the monitoring and management of the industry in the reservoir with the aim of making the production more sustainable, but the outcomes are not yet known. There is a lack of publicly available data around the use of chemicals, however due to the highly intensive nature of farming in Columbia, it is assumed to be high risk. Several disease outbreaks have been recorded for tilapia produced in Colombia, and in many cases these diseases are capable of spreading to other species.

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