Tilapia Farming In South Africa – For Beginners

Introduction to Tilapia Farming in South Africa: Tilapia farming is a profitable business and is tolerant of a different variety of aquaculture environments. Tilapia fish is a common name that refers to a wide range of fish species. Two species are indigenous to the South African area. These two species are the Oreochromis mossambius and the Tilapia rendalli. Tilapia farming can come available in a different variety of sizes. For this, you can have everything from a large commercial setup to a small backyard pond.

Fish Farming and in particular Tilapia farming provide relief to many of these people by the farming of high-quality fish protein. To achieve this, fish farms should be established in both urban and rural areas. Tilapia fish is the second most farmed freshwater fish species in the world. Originating from tropical Africa and the Near East, tilapia fish is an omnivorous fish like eats both plant and animal matter that can sustain wide environmental conditions. They can be commercially farmed in a wide variety of warm water systems about 20 to 30℃. As of right now, there are no commercial farms for Tilapia farming in South Africa even though there is a huge demand for low-priced fish. Then, this means there is a huge gap to be filled by backyard Tilapia farming.

A Step-by-Step Guide to Tilapia Farming in South Africa

Tilapia Fish Culture
Tilapia Fish (Image source: pixabay)

Aquaculture has provided a means of continuing to source food fish without increasing the harvesting of wild fisheries beyond maximum sustainable yields. Also, when compared with other sources of farmed protein such as animal husbandry, the aquaculture system is more efficient and environmentally friendly in many respects. In terms of aquaculture technology, generally, South Africa does possess a conducive infrastructure and supporting institutions environment for the development of large-scale commercial aquaculture technology.

There are manly five things that Tilapia is going to need to thrive;

  • Clean water
  • Oxygen
  • Food
  • Light
  • Room to swim.

Without these key components, you are going to be unsuccessful in your fish farming.

Tilapia is warm water, hardy fish that are easy to grow and it is one of the most popular fish to cultivate. From the ancient age, people raise tilapia fish on their farms. This farming is known as a commercially successful fish farming business.

Grow tilapia fish possible in several conditions, including fish ponds, cages, raceways, and tanks. Though, residential producers have even started growing them in trash cans. But if you like to produce tilapia for profit, you need a set of ponds or tanks. Depending on the budget, it could vary from 8 to 12 tanks or even more. Though, you can have one backyard pond to start growing.

Major Purpose of the Tilapia Aquaculture Association of South Africa

The main purposes of the Tilapia Aquaculture Association of South Africa are;

  • To promote or increase the aquaculture development facilities in areas that are particularly suitable for aquaculture;
  • To manage and control aquaculture in those regions;
  • To encourage the transfer of technology and the growth of responsible aquaculture practices;
  • To generate or increase employment in the aquaculture system;
  • To protect aquaculture developments;
  • To ensure responsible planning of aquaculture.

Benefits of Tilapia Fish Farming

  • Tilapia is a reliable fish to farm. They grow rapidly and breed abundantly. Also, they are very hardy fish with strong immune systems that are resistant to disease.
  • Tilapia fish is a good source of nutrition for humans and it is relatively affordable.
  • Tilapia cultivation can be a great option to boost your income because it is simple to take care of them and they are relatively fast-growing.
  • The combination of fast-growing fish and easy feed sources for these fish makes tilapia farming is a prospective business alternative.

Why is Tilapia Suitable for Aquaculture?

Tilapia fish has a sweet, mild flavor and a firm, flaky texture. It has several positive qualities suitable for aquaculture. These include;

  • High growth rate – Depending on the fish species, tilapia can grow up to 450 g in eight months.
  • Fertile – Females can produce 500 to 1000 eggs/spawning depending on their age.
  • It can survive in short periods of poor water quality and a wide temperature range.
  • It can use plant and animal nutrients for growth.
  • Tilapia meat is white, of good quality, and has been well received in the retail market.
  • Tilapia fish has a versatile taste and texture and can be used in value-added products.

Best Climate for Tilapia Farming

The success of Tilapia farm is going to come down to several environmental factors. Firstly, it should be noted that Tilapia are warm water fish, which means exposing them to environmental temperatures lower than 11℃ is going to be lethal. Blue Tilapia can usually survive at 8.8℃, but it is not recommended to expose them to sure temperatures.

Feeding usually stops at around 17℃ and optimal growth and reproduction usually take place at around 28℃. As for the water temperature levels, you want to aim for around 23C. The fish species will be able to easily breed and grow to a mature level much faster than other cultured fish in these temperatures. You might be able to produce a 1.1kg fish in just 7 months if you meet these conditions. During certain times of the year, you might need to install a heater and thermometer in the pond to monitor and control the temperature levels. Also, buyers felt tilapia could substitute hake, for which production has declined by almost 50%. So, local demand has the potential to support large-scale local tilapia production in South Africa.

Tilapia is a warm-water species with optimal water temperature levels in the range of 24 – 32℃. The tilapia growth rate slows down when water temperature levels are below 20℃. This is more susceptible to diseases at low water temperature levels 15℃ and will die at 12℃ or lower. This restricts some regions in South Africa where this fish species can be grown commercially outdoors, although green-house tunnel-based culture allows for more widespread farming.

Tilapia are more forgiving of low oxygen levels that are lower than 4 ppm and high ammonia levels than some other fish species. It is a mistake to believe that tilapia fish can be farmed in poor environmental conditions.

Tilapia needs a temperature level of 26-30°C for maximum growth. In outdoor ponds, this restricts maximum growth to only a few months during the summer season, from November to February in South Africa. So, the pond-aquaculture of tilapia isn’t viable in South Africa.

Tilapia Production Regions in South Africa

Warm water temperatures throughout the year are ideal, the high tilapia production of countries like Egypt where more than 750 000 tons are produced annually shows that areas of South Africa are ideal for the green water pond culture of tilapia fish. Egypt, with its cool Mediterranean winters, has water temperature levels as low as 10℃.

There are many parts of South Africa’s northeast Lowveld as well as in KwaZulu-Natal’s northern coastal region that have winter water temperature levels, making them ideal for outdoor tilapia culture.

Which Tilapia Species is best for Farming in South Africa?

Some 95% of worldwide tilapia farming uses improved strains of Oreochromis niloticus, the Nile tilapia. This fish has superseded the formerly used O. mossambicus or Mozambique tilapia which suffers some disadvantages of early maturity and poor body shape, giving low fillet yields. It can grow from a 1 gram fingerling to 500 grams mass (market mass) in 8 to 9 months compared to up to 14 months for other fish species.

Tilapia production in South Africa is dominated by two main species, that being the alien invasive Oreochromis niloticus (Nile Tilapia) and the naturally occurring Oreochromis mossambicus (Mozambique Tilapia). The Nile Tilapia fish is more resilient than the Mozambique Tilapia and has a faster growth rate when exposed to similar conditions, reaching harvestable maturity in 6 to 10 months.

 In South Africa, naturally occurring tilapia fall into two types. They are Oreochromis and Tilapia. Oreochromis are maternal mouthbrooders, while Tilapia fishes are substrate spawners and there are two indigenous species of each.


O. mossambicus – It is also called the Mozambique bream, or blue kurper. It is the best-known tilapia species. It is deep-bodied and occurs in the warmer areas of South Africa in east-flowing rivers and dams. It has been translocated to some areas such as the Western Cape and Namibia. Red forms suitable for aquaculture are available. Its limitations include a temperature level of above 12°C, relatively slow growth, and early maturity.

O. Placidus – A similar but it is smaller fish species, O. Placidus is mainly found in the Mkuze swamps. It has a different breeding coloration and four anal fin spines, compared with the three of O. mossambicus.


T. rendalli – The genus Tilapia fish is also represented by T. rendalli and T. sparrmanii. It is the well-known redbreast tilapia.

T. sparrmanii – In South Africa, it is the most widespread fish species. Tilapia is the most cold-tolerant of our indigenous fish and can survive at 6°C for short periods. It will live through the winter and have been widely trans-located through inter-basin river transfer schemes.

Non-native tilapia

The Nile tilapia (O. niloticus) has been introduced to South Africa as it has the potential to grow large. Carefully the most selected strains perform well. The fish species is mainly identified by the iridescent spots in the caudal fin. They readily hybridize with indigenous fish species.

Raising Tilapia in South Africa

There are mainly three events in tilapia farming are hatching, rearing, and harvesting.

Hatching includes some points like caring for breeding colonies, encouraging or inducing spawning, nursery isolation, tilapia fry care, and raising the fry to fingerling size; and grading the fingerlings for their growth rate. These have several individual steps that are unique to the operation of a tilapia hatchery. It should be noted that the equipment used for the hatching process is helpful during the first few weeks of tilapia’s life.

Rearing, or grow-out, is the part of tilapia fish farming that picks up after the hatchery has raised them to fingerling size. At this stage, the tilapia farmer’s goal is to raise the tilapia fish to harvest size quickly, economically, and in good health. Harvesting, or processing, mainly involves selecting tilapia, moving them to a finishing pond, killing them humanely in a way that respects what they are providing, and then removing their filets.

Length of Time to Raising Tilapia from Fingerling to Harvest Size

Tilapia fish has a period of accelerated growth that begins at hatching and lasts for approximately 240 days, or 34 weeks. A pound of food yields a pound of fish and the farmer will rapidly get less weight gain for every pound of feed during the first 240 days. It takes 240 days for food-grade tilapia to reach harvest size. Food grade tilapia is simply that tilapia that exhibits the fastest rates of growth. Therefore, it is important to a big chunk of those 240 days is spent in the hatchery, not in the grow-out. Tilapia offers commercial farmer’s services like holding fingerlings until they are about 30 grams each. By doing this, the amount of time that the tilapia farmer has until harvest is reduced to less than 6 months, or two harvests per year from the same pond.

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Re-circulating Systems for Tilapia in South Africa

Re-circulating aquaculture systems (RAS) for tilapia fish farming have been tried in urban and semi-urban areas. Though, the RAS system is energy and skill-demanding and suffers the drawback of needing artificial feeding. Tilapia feed is expensive in South Africa in comparison to countries such as Zambia. With a food conversion ratio of around 1:1.5 in good systems, using for example tilapia feed at R12/kg, feed costs alone can reach about R18/kg in even the most productive RAS system.

Combined with high energy and labor costs, the cost of rearing tilapia fish in such systems can exceed the market price of tilapia meat at times. Whilst RAS has the benefit of controlling water quality it must be accepted that the risks of system failure are high, with consequent stock losses. Such systems are energy-dependent 24/7 and requiring a reliable automatic backup energy supply and a high level of technical skills. Also, it is as yet unproven economically.

How to Get Started With Back Yard Tilapia Farming?

Tilapia farming is a simple concept, but it can require some specific equipment depending on the type of setup that you are going to use. A backyard Tilapia fish pond will simply be nothing more than an above-ground container that is filled with water. Some people have used kiddie pools, fiberglass hot tubs, or even lined plywood troughs to construct their farms.

Some other items that you are going to need are filters at the intake of the water supply to trap solids. Also, you might need a pump to feed the water to set up along with some alkaline or acidic products to help correct the pH levels. An aeration device can come in handy to help with oxygen circulation, but might not be entirely necessary. Tilapia fish survives in water that contains a pH level of 7 to 9. Also, you need to make sure that the water temperatures are suitable for the fish.

South African Tilapia Aquaculture Value Chain

Tilapia Aquaculture in South Africa – The farming of Nile Tilapia fish has now been approved when used in RAS systems and proper permits from the relevant provincial environmental authorities can be secured. It is expected to significantly increase the viability of South African Tilapia production. Though, despite the new regulations, the process of securing the necessary permits remains complicated and uncoordinated between government departments. The lack of a clear policy for freshwater aquaculture and the lack of proper implementation of the existing policy framework has hampered the development of the South African industry.

Fish Grow-Out – Grow out of Tilapia farming in South Africa is somewhat restrictive when compared to major producers. Due to the South African climate conditions, grow-out can only occur seasonally in some parts of the country, unless the water is heated to maintain higher temperatures. Though, in the North-Eastern parts of the country, the subtropical climate allows for year-round grow-out conditions without the need for water heating.

Primary Intermediaries – Primary intermediaries are restricted to marketing in the South African value chain. Lack of volume has restricted the Tilapia processors development.

Secondary Intermediaries – This is made up of individual retailers and informal markets.

Due to the nature of the South African climate conditions, production can occur in RAS systems, which naturally produce a higher quality product compared to pond-based Tilapia production. The extent of export potential to these countries by South African producers can be restricted to the high-end consumer and not the average consumer.

Small-scale farming is vital to South Africa and Africa’s food security, and the fish farming business can yield good returns even on a small piece of land. The income generated from fish production can be used to develop other farming activities.

Demand for Tilapia in South Africa

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Demand for Tilapia Fish
Tilapia (pic credit: pixabay)
  • The South African market has the future potential to support large-scale local Tilapia farming.
  • The main scope for export to regional markets is possible from a demand perspective, but South African production cannot compete with Asian imports into regional African markets due to the higher price of our product.

Reduced production costs would primarily depend on reduced feed costs (due to feeding being the largest single input cost) and, secondary, would mainly depend on cost reduction needed for the heating of water in Recirculating aquaculture systems given South Africa’s climatic conditions.

Risks and Barriers to Entry Associated Tilapia Farming in South Africa

South Africa’s environment doesn’t provide the optimal water temperature level to farms in extensive systems, such as ponds and dams, and for this reason, producers have to build temperature-controlled environments to farm successfully.

Feed is the highest production cost in tilapia production, and a farmer needs to manage feed usage strictly. Our feeding regime is based on the behavior of the fish and environmental conditions. Our feeding rate is mainly adjusted per feed and every 10 days through the observation and monitoring of feed usage and growth rates.

Disease risk is present in any farming operation, and aquaculture systems are majorly susceptible to parasites and fungi under favorable conditions. Then, the introduction of diseases into the system can be limited by monitoring all stock being moved onto and off the farm. It has a biosecurity and fish health management system in place. Disease outbreaks must be minimal in a well-controlled environment, and if the production system and environment, including water quality, feed quality, and biosecurity, are managed carefully, the risk is low.



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