ilapia is one kind of small and
medium-sized tropical fish, originat-
ing from the inland of Africa and
the Middle East Atlantic coastal
brackish water area, Israel and Jordan of
On taxonomy, tilapia belongs to Cichlidae,
Percoidei, Perciformes, Osteichthyes, while
Tilapia can be classified as Sarotherodon,
Oreochromis and Tilapia according to
their way of incubation. Species of both
Sarotherodon and Oreochromis are mouth
brooders, while the species of tilapia are not
mouth brooders. In Oreochromis species only
females practice mouth brooding, while in
Sarotherodon species both male and female
are mouth brooders.
There are more than 100 species including
Tilapia is advantaged on stronger adapt-
ability, wider food habits, less diseases, faster
reproduction and growth, higher yield, tender
meat and no intramuscular bones. It has
become one of the key aquaculture species
extended to the world especially by FAO.
The yield of tilapia has exceeded three
million tonnes with wide distribution in
more than 100 countries or regions. Tilapia
has been considered as a dominant aqua-
culture species for exportation and foreign
currency earning by many developing coun-
China is the largest country for tilapia
farming in the world and the yield of tilapia
has increased from 315,000 tonnes in 1995
to 1,552,700 tonnes in 2012, accounting for
over 40 percent of that produced worldwide.
Thanks to the suitable climate conditions,
Guangdong, Hainan, Guangxi and Fujian -
located in South China - are the main prov-
inces for tilapia aquaculture.
In these provinces, the related industries
such as broodstocks and seeds, feeds, aquatic
products processing and trade have been
driven and got rapid development. The com-
plete tilapia industry chain has been formed
in these areas, which possesses competitive
advantages in the world.
Four stage of development
Tilapia aquaculture history in China can be
divided into four stages.
From 1957 to 1978, Oreochromis mossam-
bicus was cultured as dominant species. From
1978 to 1985, O. niloticus, O. mossambicus and
tilapia (O. mossambicus♀×O. niloticus♂) were
cultured as dominant species. This stage was
a interim stage in which O. niloticus has gradu-
ally replaced O. mossambicus, and Tilapia (O.
From 1985 to 2000, O. niloticus farming
has completely replaced the other two spe-
cies and the hybrid O. niloticus♀×O. aureus♂
farming was initially started.
Since 2000, a large number of new vari-
eties were bred successfully through the
introduction of selectively bred new varieties
and high purified original and improved stocks
with the application of modern breeding
In the 1960s, tilapia, the species of
which were mainly O. mossambicus, O. niloti-
cus, O. aureus, O. hornorum, O. amdersonii,
Sarotherodon galilaeus, Tilapia zillii, Cichlasoma
sp. and Red Tilapia (O. mossambicus×O. niloti-
cus), tilapia (O. mossambicus♀×O. niloticus♂),
were began to be introduced from southeast
Asian countries, the United States and Egypt,
etc. to China.
In addition, among the introduced Nile
tilapia, there are also the strains from Sudan,
the Nile River downstream, the United States,
GIFT and Egypt. At present, the farmed
Tilapias in China mainly consists of hybrid O.
niloticus♀×O. aureus♂, GIFT Strain Tilapia
and Red Tilapia.
In 1996, the hybrid tilapia (O. niloticus♀×O.
aureus♂) was successfully bred by Freshwater
Fisheries Research Center (FFRC) of Chinese
Academy of Fishery Sciences (CAFS), which
was also called the all-male hybrid Tilapia with
obvious heterosis and the male rate exceed-
ing 90 percent.
The all-male hybrid tilapia is characterised
with good body shape and flesh texture,
omnivore, fast growth, high fillet rate, delicious
taste. The growth rate of this variety is 20
percent to 30 percent faster than others.
For example, the body weight can reach
to 500 grams after five-month farming period
for the 5cm fingerlings, which shows the great
This all-male hybrid tilapia is the most suit-
Tilapia farming in China
by GE Xianping, MIAO Linghong, Freshwater Fisheries Research Center,
Chinese Academy of Fishery Sciences, Wuxi, 214081, China
10 | INTERNATIONAL AQUAFEED | July-August 2014
able farming variety in China, covering more
than 60 percent of the total farming area in
China. The breakthrough has initiated the uni-
sexual Tilapia aquaculture in China, solved the
disadvantages of farming male and female Nile
tilapias in the same pond and greatly promoted
the rapid development of Tilapia industry.
From then on, Tilapia aquaculture has stepped
into the era of high-efficiency farming.
Farming modes and technologies
At present, Chinese tilapia farming has
been developed rapidly, playing an important
role in the freshwater aquaculture.
In the past decade, the tilapia farming yield
has consecutively ranked the first in the world
with an average annual increment of 13.4
percent. Through decades of development,
the Tilapia farming modes has been changed
from extensive culture into the farming modes
of pond monoculture and intensive culture
oriented, coexistence with cage farming, run-
ning water farming and polyculture.
The available land resources have been
made full use of through ponds reconstruc-
tion (that is, deepening and expanding the
ponds). Through application of polyculture
technologies, the water resources have been
fully utilised, the feed coefficient rate has been
improved, the ecological efficiency could be
exerted so as to regulate the water quality
and the tilapia grows fast with few disease
occurrence and reduced pollution to farm
The problem of balancing the grow-out
has been partly solved product appearance in
the market through the large-scale cultivation
of large-size fish combined with pond hierar-
chical culture mode, and twice harvesting one
year or three times harvesting in two years
Besides, industrial aquaculture has also
been developed, such as pond recirculating
aquaculture and running water aquaculture.
The tilapia feed industry has developed
with the feed industry in China, with the
characteristics of a late beginning, short history
and rapid development.
In the 1980s, there was no feed specially
produced for tilapia, so common fish feeds
However, the tilapia fomulated feeds had
been developed since the end of the 20th
Century. These feed enterprises were mainly
distributed in Guangdong, Hainan, Guangxi
The feed output of Guangdong province
was largest, then was Hainan, Guangxi and
Fujian. The tilapia farming area for feeding
with complete formulated feeds accounts
for about 85 percent in China. The special
feeds for tilapias mainly consists of floating,
expanded feeds and pellet feeds.
Currently, the feed coefficient ratio is
In future, China will put more priorities to enhancing the
industry quality, strengthening the scientific research input,
developing and promoting standardization production
technology, producing non-pollution, green or organic tilapia
products with high quality, and maintaining the healthy
and sustainable development of the tilapia industry
July-August 2014 | INTERNATIONAL AQUAFEED | 11
about 1.5 and 1.2 for pellet feeds and floating
feeds, respectively. The floating feed industry
has developed greatly in recent years with the
higher level of feed efficiency.
Tilapia processing industry
Tilapia processing industry in China began
from the end of 1990s.
At present, there are more than 200 process-
ing enterprises with more than 170 exportation-
oriented enterprises, and the annual processing
capacity exceeds two million tonnes.
The tilapia processing capacity has
increased to 600,000 tonnes in 2012 from
40,000 tonnes in 2002, which increased by
15 times in a decade with the average annual
growth rate of 136 percent.
Since the year when China got access to
the WTO in 2002, the exportation of tilapia
processing products has rapidly developed.
The export volume was increased by 8.97
times, from 36,300 tons in 2002 to 362,000
tons in 2012, with the average annual growth
rate of 81.57 percent.
The export value was increased by 22
times, from US$500 million in 2002 to
US$1.163 billion in 2012, with the average
annual growth rate of 201.8 percent.
The main forms of tilapia processing prod-
ucts for exportation are frozen tilapia fillets,
frozen tilapia, live tilapias, fresh cold tila-
pias, salted tilapias, prepared tilapia fillet with
breads and other products.
After over 20 years development, tilapia
aquaculture technologies have become more
and more advanced, which has already formed
the complete industry including improved spe-
cies breeding, quality fry production, grow-out
farming (monoculture and polyculture), feed
formulating and application, products processing.
We can say that China is the country with
most advanced technologies for tilapia aqua-
culture in the world.
Due to the further expansion of the inter-
national market and rapid development of tila-
pia industry, there is great market demand and
development potential for tilapia aquaculture.
China, as the major tilapia producer in the
world, is still possessing great development
chance for the tilapia industry due to the
advantages of farming conditions.
In the future, China will put more priorities
to enhancing the industry quality, strengthen-
ing the scientific research input, developing
and promoting standardization production
technology, producing non-pollution, green
or organic tilapia products with high quality,
and maintaining the healthy and sustainable
development of the tilapia industry, so as to
make contributions to the resource-saving
and environment-friendly tilapia aquaculture
Figure 4: Tilapia fillet processing workshop and the products
Figure 2: Tilapia species farmed in China
Figure 3: The breeding process of all-male hybrid Tilapia
12 | INTERNATIONAL AQUAFEED | July-August 2014
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Tilapia farming in China
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