Nile Tilapia: The preferred freshwater Aquaculture species for Africa Part 1

Nile Tilapia the preferred freshwater Aquaculture species for Africa

(Oreochromis niloticus)

The culturing of fish is a very old practice in Africa, although commercial production of fish is still developing throughout the continent. Some fish species and strains are particularly suitable for commercial production. The Nile Tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus) is one of these very important fish species, introduced from Africa and the Middle East to several countries all over the world. Tilapia have been called Saint Peters fish in reference to biblical passages about the fish fed to the multitudes. Worldwide harvest of farmed tilapia has now surpassed 6 000 000 metric tons (7% growth per annum), and tilapia are second only to carps as the most widely farmed freshwater fish in the world. The Nile tilapia was one of the first fish species cultured. Illustrations from Egyptian tombs suggest that Nile tilapia were cultured more than 3,000 years ago. Nile tilapia is the most widely farmed Tilapia species in the world, representing approximately 83% of total Tilapia production (FAO, 2005-2017). In Africa today, the Nile tilapia is also the most widely cultured species of tilapia in Aquaculture production systems.

This is because of its rapid growth, late age of sexual maturity and planktivorous feeding habits. The characteristic rapid growth to market size of Nile tilapia has made it a well-accepted fish with Tilapia farmers. The Nile tilapia is a more dependable spawner and produces more consistent quantities of fry. Survival of eggs, fry and juveniles is higher for Nile tilapia and they are more tolerant of low water temperatures than most strains of red Tilapia. Additional positive aquacultural characteristics of tilapia in general are their tolerance to poor water quality and the fact that they eat a wide range of natural food organisms. Biological constraints to the development of commercial tilapia farming are their inability to withstand sustained water temperatures below 10 to 12°C and early sexual maturity that results in spawning before fish reach market size. The following is a discussion of the characteristics and culture of the Nile tilapia as a preferred Aquaculture species.


Actinopteri (ray-finned fishes) > Cichliformes (Cichlids, convict blennies) > Cichlidae (Cichlids) > Pseudocrenilabrinae
Etymology: Oreochromis: Latin, aurum = gold + Greek, chromis = a fish, perhaps a perch; niloticus: From “Filhoa” = the Amharic word for “hot spring”.

Tilapia is a common name for a group of cichlid fish species, which can be separated in two categories (genus’s), namely the mouth breeding or Oreochromis-species, and the non-mouth breeders or Tilapia-species. The females of the Oreochromis spp protect and nurture the eggs and fry in their mouth, until they are large enough to be released in the wild. O. mossambicus, O. niloticus and O. aureus are the three main species of tilapia that are used in aquaculture systems.


Freshwater; brackish; benthopelagic; potamodromous; depth range 0 – 20 m, Tropical; 14°C – 33°C; 32°N – 5°S, 17°W – 38°E


Africa: naturally occurring in coastal rivers of Israel, Nile basin (including lake Albert, Edward and Tana), Jebel Marra, Lake Kivu, Lake Tanganyika, Awash River, various Ethiopian lakes, Omo River system, Lake Turkana, Suguta River and Lake Baringo. In West Africa natural distribution covers the basins of Senegal, Gambia, Volta, Niger, Benue and Chad, with introduced specimens reported from various coastal basins. Widely introduced for aquaculture, with many existing strains. Several countries report adverse ecological impact after introduction. The following subspecies were previously recognized: Oreochromis niloticus baringoensis, Oreochromis niloticus cancellatus, Oreochromis niloticus eduardianus, Oreochromis niloticus filoa, Oreochromis niloticus niloticus, Oreochromis niloticus sugutae, Oreochromis niloticus tana and Oreochromis niloticus vulcani.

Length at first maturity / Size / Weight / Age:
Maturity: Length at maturity (Lm) 18.6, range 6 – 28 cm
Max length: 60.0 cm Standard Length male/unsexed; max. published weight: 5 kg; max. reported age: 10 yearsThe full article is for subscribed members only. To view the full article please subscribe. It’s FREE!Log In Register



  • Manager, Aquaculture, Department of Animal Sciences, Stellenbosch University


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