by Izzat Feidi, International Fisheries Consultant
Most important and abundant in production, capture and aquaculture, is the Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus); followed by the Blue tilapia (Oreochromis aureus); Mango tilapia (Sarotherodon galilaeus) and Sabaki tilapia (Oreochromis spilurus). These are native to Africa and the Middle East. Blue and Mango tilapias are captured although in limited quantities while Sabaki tilapia is only cultured.
Tilapia is often called “St. Peter’s fish” because according to the Book of Mathew (17:27) the fish which St. Peter caught was a tilapia. Also, the miracle of Jesus Christ in which it says a crowd of five thousand people were fully fed with five loafs of bread and two fishes (Mathew 14:15-21) may have also been a tilapia since this is the species most found in Lake Tiberius (Sea of Galilee) in historical Palestine. It is also called as Nile Mouth brooder, or Nile perch. In the twenty-first century tilapia is dubbed as “wonder fish”.
Tilapia Cichlids inhabit the fresh and brackish waters of much of Africa, the Middle East, and coastal India, Central and South America. True tilapias, however, are native only to Africa and the Middle East. Tilapias are fascinating fish that are surrounded by fascinating facts. They have played an important role in the past and continue to play an important role these days in increasing food supply at affordable prices. Originally, the majority of tilapias fisheries were in Africa, but accidental and deliberate introduction of tilapias into freshwater lakes in Asia have led to outdoor aquaculture projects in several countries. Apart from the very few species found in the Middle East such as Oreochromis niloticus and Sarotherodon galilaeus, there is no tilapias cichlids endemic to Asia. However species originally from Africa have been widely introduced and have become economically important as food fish in many countries. Tilapia was only raised in MENA region but accidental and deliberate introductions of the fish into fresh water lakes made them feasible to be raised in tropical climate such as Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Malaysia
Tilapias inhabit a variety of fresh and, less commonly, brackish water habitats from shallow streams and ponds through to rivers, lakes, and estuaries. Although cichlids are found in freshwater and occasionally brackish water environments in Africa, Madagascar, Israel (Historical Palestine), Syria, India, Sri Lanka, South , Central, and North America. However, introduced species of tilapias are established in many environments, including several states in the United States.
Tilapia rank high in global aquaculture production. Carps are the only category of fish species with greater production than tilapias. Tilapias are a hardy species produced by several culture methods under a wide range of environmental conditions. They are tropical and subtropical species, but they have been cultured at temperate sites by using geothermal water, greenhouses, or other means of providing warm water during winter. Tilapias are produced in many countries, but most production occurs in tropical and subtropical regions in developing countries. Contrary to some aquaculture species, tilapias are important in local and export markets as well as food fish by rural farmers.
This paper reviews the history and background of the popular tilapias production from the wild as well as the reasons behind the preference in farming tilapias in an expanding aquaculture in the wider Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. The paper reviews tilapias production in 21 countries 14 of which produce captured and/or cultured tilapias and 7 countries have the capabilities and the potential to produce one or more species of tilapia. National reviews of all these countries are presented highlighting the current situation as well as future prospects. The paper concludes by raising the main issues which need to be taken to strengthen and enhance tilapias production in order to meet the increasing demand for fish.