Friday, April 1, 2016

Aquaponics and Tilapia Farming, the Perfect Combination

When we first began our tilapia farm, we were told about how to maximize our revenue by using three levels. The young man who told us was studying fish farming at the university in Fortaleza. What was suggested for non-commercial tilapia farmers was to have ducks, tilapia and shrimp. The theory behind this is all the space was being used.

The ducks obviously on the surface, eating the vegetation in and around the lake and then defecating in the water which increased the algae for the tilapia.
The tilapia then poop and the shrimp eat that. All of that natural fertilzer keeps the vegetation growing and so the cycle continues.

This, in my opinion is a good system as you can get paid 3 times for that body of water.

However, there was one problem we found with this system. It was the ducks.
Now don't get me wrong I love ducks. I love watching them swim, I love the eggs, I love eating duck but... they would eat our tilapia food. At first it was amusing to watch them swim over waiting for us to feed the tilapia.
By the end though, it was evident that we had to do something about the problem, so we sold the ducks.

That left us with the surface of the water not earning us money. That is until we thought about aquaponics. The revelation came to us with how well our water hyacinths were growing on our lake we had fish in. Our other lakes (without fish) also had some hyacinths but the plants weren't growing very well. That was when the light bulb went on.

It all that goodness in the water which was feeding the plants.
Not only would we have enough for ourselves but we would have enough to sell.

My husband and I tend to be a little cautious and we thought for awhile whether it was doable. We didn't want anything which was too labor intensive as we already had enough work with the farm and the fish.
It wasn't until I returned home from the supermarket with a scrawny looking head of lettuce, which I had paid R$2.00 (Brazilian reals). When he saw this and knew what we could produce with aquaponics, we began straight away.
 Step by Step Aquaponics System

Once we got into our routine, and asked at the local shops if they wanted to buy, all of them did. They knew their customers would love our lettuces and other plants as they were much deeper green and healthier looking than what they were currently selling.

My only regret with the aquaponics system is that we didn't start sooner. Not only would we have been making more money sooner but it would have taken that worry about keeping all your eggs in one basket.

I mean tilapia farming is almost a guaranteed return on investment but there are things which can go wrong. With aquaponics, that gives us a buffer of cash just in case the unforeseen should happen.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Tilapia farming and climate change

Not a day passes that you don't hear something  about climate change. Often this has turned more into a finger pointing exercise of which countries pollute unnecessarily whilst other countries become a victim to the ravages of the weather caused by these changes.

However behind the scenes there are countries who are preparing for these changes. For example, universities in the countries of Norway, Finland and the Netherlands have come together to discuss what can be done to prepare for the changes to fish farming as a result of climate change.

One of the topics they touched on was selective breeding. This would be cross breeding with weather hardy types to produce a fish which is still acceptable to the consumer but can stand temperature fluctuations.
Although their talks were centered around farmed fish such as salmon, this is also a necessary topic for tilapia. Currently fish are, in the main, raised in areas which are warm due to the fact that to heat a large volume of water is costly.

Here in Brazil we have a constant temperature year round which makes it ideal for the rearing of almost any fish. The ideal temperature is 86°F (30° C). As the temperature decreases the fish are using the food to keep their body warm and not to increase the weight. If the temperature is too hot, the fish become stressed and will stop eating also not ideal. .

Climate change  could see areas which were once too cold to profitably farm tilapia opening up to potential boom times. Under the right conditions, you can harvest in 5 months. This is a quick turn around and can be very profitable. Even if winters are still cool, an early warm spring could see the introduction of tilapia in many areas which were once considered unsuitable for this tropical fish.  

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Tilapia cages. What makes a good one?

Although you may have heard that the tilapia can be successfully reared in a cage, you may not have realized just what is needed. There are some I have seen on sites such as Ebay. These are a thin netting material with floats. Often these will be for very young fish as the material is not robust enough for adult fish. A cage in many ways is preferred to rearing in a tank because the fish waste drops through the cage to the bottom of your lake or river.

Here on our farm we have used a few different types, some are better than others for various reasons. Here are a few things to consider.

The frame. What material is the frame made of? This could be aluminum, wood or plastic pipe. Each has its advantages and disadvantages.
Plastic pipe
Lightweight, inexpensive and readily available, easy to fix
May deteriorate in the sun
Lightweight, doesn't rust
Needs to be a good quality otherwise will bend with weight of fish
We used Hardwood which lasts
Can be heavy to lift, out of the water could be prone to insects.

Besides the frame which will hold the netting or the structure of the cage. For this we have used two types. One was a heavy duty plastic, the other was plastic coated metal. Similar to a chain link fence.
Over time both of these needed repairing as areas would become holed and allow fish to escape.

Every time the cages came out of the water for the fish to be sold, they get cleaned and thoroughly checked for potential problems. The plastic ones we repair with strong cord, and the metal ones we use coated wire to patch up areas.

You also need a way of making the cages float as you do not want the cages sitting on the bottom of your body of water. We use plastic cans which in their previous lives were used for cleaning products. These were perfect but after two years in the Brazilian sun, needed replacing as they became brittle and would crack and take on water.

This is why, during feeding time, it is always a good idea to do a quick visual scan of the cages to preempt any potential problems. Keep extra buoyancy aids in a covered area. It would be a shame to see all the fish in your cage escape due to a listing cage.

We had a local welder construct small cages to hold the containers in place. These simply hooked over near a corner. On our 2m x2m cages we use 4 floats. On our 2m x 3m we use 6 floats.

As well as the frame, the cage material, and the floats you will also need to put fabric mesh around the top edge of the cage. Ours was about 18” wide. At first this doesn't seem necessary but when you feed the fish in the cage, this mesh will keep the food from floating out of the cage and being wasted. This should be tied onto the cage to keep it from floating up, which trust me, is a nightmare.

The last item you will need is plastic mesh for the top of your cage. This serves a couple different purposes. One is to keep the fish in the cage. Although you may think that tilapia don't jump, they will. With a cage which is just floating above the height of the water, they will be out in a shot. The second reason is to keep out birds. We have had herons, egrets and moorhens all sitting on our cages. The herons and egrets are trying for the fish and the moorhen is eating the fish food.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Triploid Tilapia

Triploid fish are those which are sterile with three sets of chromosomes and as such will never be able to reproduce. So why would we want these sterile fish and how do we get them?

The use of hormones and antibiotics in food has skyrocketed. Not only does this have a cumulative effect on humans as we eat the meat  but also on marine life as it is eliminated and flushed out of our system into the sewers and eventually ending up in the world's oceans. We of course eat the seafood and have another dose of hormones and unwanted chemical cocktails by doing so.

So what's the answer? It could be triploid fish as this is already being seen in trout and other fish as a viable method of population control in by the US. I feel our role as  farmers is not to add to this problem but to try and eliminate  hormones from the cycle of tilapia farming if possible.

Although the treatment of hormones with 17 alpha-methyltestosterone is commonly used here in Brazil there are alternatives.  The use of cold and/or heat shock and  pressure treatment on fertilized eggs can leave the fish sterile.  This is achieved by applying  the  pressure, heat and then cold to the eggs shortly after they have been fertilized. The amount of pressure, and time held during the  heating  and chilling period are crucial to get the triploid tilapia. Too much of any of those processes and the eggs will die , not enough and it is likely to be ineffectual.

Beside saving hormones from entering the food chain, producing triploid fish is safer for the environment, as tilapia if they escape into rivers and lakes, can be an invasive species. Their rapid breeding can soon get out of hand and cause problems in many bodies of water.

It is down to tilapia farmers  to seek out alternatives and find   breeders who  are not  using hormones as a method of sex reversal.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Selling your tilapia

This is something you should think about before buying your fish. Who are you going to sell the tilapia to? There are several different options and today I would like to discuss some of these with you.
Here on our farm we use combination of these.

The first option is selling them yourself to individuals. Basically people come to you and want to buy a few fish, sometimes just one for dinner. Although both of you are cutting out the middleman and you can get a higher price for each fish, this is hassle. Catching one or two fish at a time is time consuming and as they say, “time is money”. This is still a viable option and often the other person may offer to help you. Be warned, they will be pickier than if they bought it from a store.

Another option is selling to a store. This is something we do on a weekly basis. We sell to a few corner shops. They usually require the fish for the weekend and like them to arrive Thursday or Friday. On average we sell between 25-40 kilos a week per shop. There are several small shops nearby and most of these sell fish. If this is something you plan to do, you will need a suitable vehicle for delivering these, especially if you deliver to more than one store. Although you will be quick in each store you go to, the fish should be kept cold or as cool as possible. Use large Styrofoam boxes with ice to keep the fish from going off.

The third option is selling to a middle man but smaller quantities. This too is something we do on a weekly basis. Our weekly local buyer, arrives early on a Saturday morning. We get the fish out of the lake, weighed and he is on his way. Because we try and support our local community, if he can't pay us upfront it isn't a problem, he sells the fish and then returns with the cash less his commission of course.

The last option we have used is selling to a large buyer. He sets a date, arrives with a truck loaded with ice and boxes. He also provides his team of men to prepare the fish. His men get the fish out of the lake, clean them, weigh them and then we are paid. This is a long day for everyone concerned but it means you are selling the bulk of your fish. The larger ones of course command the highest price per kilo. Our buyer paid more for anything over 800grams. The next size the pay was less and then the smallest ones less than 500 grams was less still.

Something which we haven't done is sell to a company for export to the USA. This, although profitable, isn't something we were interested in doing as all our fish were various sizes. Locally there was a tilapia farmer who looked into this and by the time he calculated the cost of the machinery he would need, and the fact that their restrictions were so tight, he too decided to pass.

These are just some of the options for selling tilapia, there are of course more and in future posts, we will be looking at even more.  

Friday, October 9, 2015

Killer Tilapia: Fact or Fiction

Sometimes you don't even want to read or listen to the news because there will be an attention grabbing headline that will make people change their eating habits, learn what is going to kill them or at least provide them with something to talk about over the water cooler at work.

The truth is most people read a headline, maybe scan the page and suddenly they know it all.

There has been a lot of mudslinging with regards to tilapia and one "expert" even suggested it was worse than bacon! Let me tell you, I eat tilapia and I also eat bacon. I suspect so does the journalist who wrote the article. They don't care about facts, they just want you to click on their page.

The world has gone crazy with regards to food. Tell me one food which hasn't been attacked and vilified, I don't think you can.

You can't eat the fruit and veg because they are genetically modified. Eggs the risk of salmonella, ocean caught fish have plastic in them.
So what are we left with All-bran and a eco- friendly vitamin pill on our plate?

Nope not for me. I plan to eat as I always have with a well balanced diet. Everything in moderation and choosing from a wide variety of meats, fish, fruits, and vegetables.

It has been stated in the media that tilapia isn't good for you for several reasons.

  • The commercial feed isn't healthy: Of course there are fish farmers who use a lesser quality of fish food. We use half fish food/ half duckweed. The fish food does contain genetically modified soy products but check your manufactures ingredient list. Remember fish is a good source of low fat protein. The beef and chicken are also fed on GM foods, unless you go to a specialist retailer who sells organic meats. The fish food will have protein which may be from chicken which has been retrieved by use of high pressure hoses. It is claimed that chicken excrement may also find its way into the mixture. I believe that is very possible. Here though I would also like to point to the fact that many foods we already consume are made from this 'goo or pink slime ' as it has been called, which is extracted this way. For example hot dogs lesser quality foods are using this. 

  • The use of antibiotics: Here on our farm, we have never used antibiotics. We know of some tilapia farmers who have though. This greatly increases the cost of rearing fish and if possible should be avoided. Keep your water clean, and reduce the numbers of fish to keep the growing environment healthy. Commercial farmers walk a tightrope between profit and loss. The general public never see this, they only want to hear the dirt about the farmers.

  • Pesticides in water: In some areas this could be a problem. Have your water tested if you are in an area where intensive agricultural farming or animal rearing is occurring. We don't have this problem where I live in Brazil and as a result our fish are stronger and healthier. If your water is contaminated with pesticides, calculate the cost of digging a deeper well after speaking to a someone from your water board. If you are reliant river runoff, see if you can determine where the pesticides originated from. If this has affected your farm adversely you could be able to file a complaint against them and may be in line for compensation. The legal road is a long one to take and is often hellishly expensive.

  • Farmed vs. wild caught: I hate this comparison because it immediately conjures up the wrong image. You have the image that some weathered and smiling fisherman  using a fishing pole is catching a salmon, just for you to enjoy. Wake up and smell the coffee! Your “wild caught salmon” is depleting the ocean's resources and is probably caught by a net which when snagged, is cut free and left. This then creates an unseen barrier for dolphins, whales and others.  Plus have you not read about all the garbage in the oceans? It is thought that ¼ of the fish caught off the Californian coast have consumed plastic. This is in the form of micro beads and other other types of plastic such as bags. California has now, thankfully  passed a bill  preventing micro beads from being used in cosmetics and other toiletries such as toothpastes. My point is, don't think that farmed fish is something to avoid. Weigh up the pros and cons before buying fish.
  •  Tilapia and inflammation: It has also been claimed that tilapia can cause problems for people with asthma, heart problems, and arthritis. This is due to the ratio of Omega 3 and Omega 6 in farm fed tilapia. If you suffer from any of these conditions, consult your doctor and explain your concerns. 
These are the main reasons why people have concerns over eating tilapia. For most people, it is a low cost food which can be enjoyed in so many different ways. The fact that kids are eating something other than tuna, and one which parents are happy to prepare will still keep tilapia at the forefront of everyone's weekly menu for the foreseeable future.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Is tilapia farming right for you?

The decision to become a tilapia farmer isn't one to be taken lightly. It is easy to think of fish as something other than livestock but livestock they are. You have to be committed, day in and day out until they are off to market or on your dinner plate.

With other animals there is a constant reminder as you see them on your farm or homestead. Because fish aren't usually seen until you are feeding them, it can be easy to think, “oh, I will feed them tomorrow.”

If you wouldn't treat you dog/cat like that, then don't treat your fish like that. 
There is an exception to this and that is delayed feeding which I have written about previously.

So back to the original question, is tilapia farming for you. You have to ask yourself some questions.
  • How many do you plan to raise. Is this for your own consumption or to sell?
  • Have you calculated how much it may cost you to feed the until they are ready? (use the chart)
  • How are you going to remove the build up of excrement from  the water?
  • Do you have measures in place to heat or cool the water if need be?
  • What is your intended time frame?
  • Where are you going to keep them?
  • Who is going to be responsible for the feeding and buying of food?
  • Who will be checking the water quality.
  • How will you harvest them.
  • If you plan to sell, who will buy them?
All of these need to be taken into consideration before you put your money on the line to purchase your fish. You might have the goal but you need to do some prep work first.
Getting these straight from the outset will save you headaches down the road.