1. Aquaculture farming with tilapia

We are going to step you through the process of what building a successful fish farming business is all about. There are some hard truths in this.

Firstly, let us take it as read that we all understand demand for fresh fish is growing and that there is a massive market for it out there. We all know the headlines of the oceans running out of fish (not true by the way) and the population increases we are facing. You can bank that for now.

Secondly, why tilapia? It is important you understand that you are not constrained to tilapia only. You can farm any damned thing you can think of. However, as per our first page you would be well advised not be first in a new species – just Google “dusky kob” as an abject case study of how to lose millions in trying to be first, and still failing.

Species selection is important. You have to be able to answer these basic questions in the affirmative if you are to stand any chance at all of success:

  1. Can you breed ’em?
  2. Can you feed ’em?
  3. Can you grow ’em?
  4. Can you sell ’em?

We chose tilapia because it is a well researched and proven aquaculture species with a broad market appeal from high end restaurants to literally side of the road. There are no hidden surprises with tilapia and all of the above questions about it have largely been answered in ways we like to see them answered, peer reviewed publications that are rigorously defendable and quantified in actual science and data, not speculation, assumptions and hype. And we will not be the first to have to answer any of these questions ourselves. The species selection in this case de-risks the business model to a substantive degree.

Business development

As with all businesses there are two steps involved in your fish farm. Creating a product and selling it. You grow fish, and then you sell the fish. Or to couch it in more professional terms, the two broad steps are called “production” and “sales”.

To get a sense of the numbers involved let’s walk you through some common terms on the production side of things. Fish are measured in tons, typically production is measured in tons per annum or TPA, and mostly this a metric ton i.e. 1,000 kg. By way of example, one ton of tilapia with each fish having an average weight of 500 grams would represent 2,000 fish. At an average weight of 250 grams per fish, one ton would be 4,000 fish.

The Aquaculture Production Unit (APU), which is our baseĀ  unit of production, can hold a live fish mass of 200kg. It is 10,000l or 10kl in size which means you can stock at a density of 20kg/kl. This is another important term called Stocking Density sometimes abbreviated to SD.

The rate of growth of fish and the final harvest size combine to determine how many kg or tons of fish an APU can produce in a year. For instance, if you target a fish of 500 grams at harvest and the fish take 6 months to grow to 500g, it would mean each APU can produce two crops a year for a total of 400kg (800 fish). Of course you can do better than this as you will see.

The production of fish is influenced by many different interlocking factors that make it more difficult than perhaps other types of farming. Your business development model has to take these into account and influences of your location and environment can play substantive influences on your business, especially if you fail to acknowledge them or address them comprehensively.