The "food fish of the 21st century." That is how Dr. Kevin Fitzsimmons, president of the World Aquaculture Society, called tilapia. After carps and salmonids, tilapia is now the third most important fish around the world and is considered the single most important aquaculture product.
"Historically, the introduction of the first tilapia species, the Mozambique tilapia, in the Philippines in 1950 was initially not well-accepted by the industry because of the lack of appropriate culture techniques," said Dr. Rafael D. Guerrero III, the executive director of the Laguna-based Philippine Council for Aquaculture and Marine Research and Development (PCAMRD).
"Growth of the fish in ponds was stunted with too much breeding and overpopulation," added the man who popularized tilapia consumption in the country. "The small size and dark color of the fish did not also appeal to local consumers."
The coming of the Nile tilapia in the 1970s improved the acceptance of tilapia in the Philippines because of its lighter color and faster growth compared to the earlier-introduced tilapia. "The development of technologies for the improved breeding and culture of the fish and its affordable price are the main reasons why the tilapia is now the fish of the masses," Dr. Guerrero pointed out.
He found out that tilapias are among the easiest and most profitable fish to farm. "The tilapia has good attributes that make it suitable for aquaculture," he said. "It matures early, breeds readily and is a hardy fish."
The Philippines now ranks fourth among the top ten largest tilapia producers in the world -- after China, Egypt and Thailand. Other top producing countries, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), are Indonesia, Uganda, Mexico, Tanzania, Kenya, and Sri Lanka.
While most people raise tilapia in cages in lakes, and rivers, the fish can also be grown in ponds, according to the Mindanao Baptist Rural Life Center (MBRLC) Foundation, Inc. based in Kinuskusan, Bansalan, Davao del Sur.
"The size of the pond should be determined by the number of fish you want to raise," said Roy C. Alimoane, the MBRLC director. "A good guide is 2-3 mature fish per square meter of water surface. The depth of the pond should be one meter with water not less than three-fourths meter deep." The water should be managed so that it will not flow continuously through the pond.
Before stocking the pond with tilapia, it must be drained thoroughly and weeds and unwanted fish that may be present are removed. The pond is allowed to dry up until it cracks before refilling with fresh, clean water.
As the pond is newly constructed, it is highly recommended that the pond be fertilized. "Apply fertilizer one week before stocking it with tilapia fingerlings," Alimoane said. "Apply chicken manure on the pond bottom with water depth of about 6 centimeters at the rate of one kilo for every 10 square meters." Pond fertilization is done once a month to insure good production of algae.
Farmers are advised to buy their first supply of tilapia fingerlings from a reliable fishpond owner. "If fingerlings are unavailable, you need about 20-30 pairs of good breeders to start reproducing in your tilapia pond of 10 by 20 feet," Alimoane said.
"Stock the pond either early in the morning or late in the afternoon when the water temperature is low in order to avoid weakening of the fish," he said. "Allow the water in the pond to mix gradually with the water in the fish container before putting the fish into the pond."
In maintaining the pond and providing care for the tilapia, here are some pointers from MBRLC:
* Feed daily during morning and afternoon at one portion of the pond. Supplement feeds with fine rice bran, bread crumbs, earthworms, termites, and others at an initial rate of 5% of the total body weight of the fish.
* Maintain the natural fish food by adding more fertilizer. Place chicken droppings in sacks and suspend in the water at every corner of the pond. Put 2.5 kg of chicken manure per bag.
* Maintain a water level depth of 1-1.5 meters. Gradually remove excess fingerlings after the third month of stocking. Retain six fingerlings per square meter. (As another source of income, you can sell those excess fingerlings to other farmers in the area.)
* Plant kangkong and gabi at one portion to provide shade for the fish during hot weather and to serve as growing media for natural fish food. Water lily also provides shade. However, do not totally cover the pond with plants as this will interfere with the natural food production process.
* Prevent seepages and leakages by patching them with mud. Clear the pond dikes of weeds. Check the gates occasionally to prevent entry of other fish species and avoid loss of stock. If your home lot is easily flooded, place stones around the top of dikes to prevent the escape of fish if the water overflows.
* Plant trees within the sources of water to maintain the flow. Protect the riverbeds from toxic waste water and pesticides and avoid dumping of garbage. In addition, plant trees and grasses near the dike to avoid erosion.
"Tilapia is here to stay in the country," said Dr. Guerrero. "Its farming should be further promoted in upland and coastal areas of the country where fisheries production will be adversely affected by climate change."
To make tilapia available to all Filipinos, certain problems like the lack of quality fingerlings in areas like the Visayas and Mindanao and the need for extension services to fish farmers must be solved first.
"The establishment of more private hatcheries and the pushing of a national extension program will definitely help," he said.
Good tips and it should be understood, you need a climate where warmer summers exist and not so freezing winters occur.