Tilapia

A quick word on tilapia, specifically the Nile tilapia, oreochromis niloticus.

Its a great farming species!

It’s a fast grower and we need that when producing fish commercially. It’s a well known species and a ‘closed loop’ species that has been done before. This means fewer surprises and more predictability.

Whilst the Aquaculture Production Unit can be used for any species, freshwater or marine, we believe that tilapia is a primary candidate species for sheer tonnage production in Southern Africa for simple reasons.

  • It is one of the most farmed species in the world.
  • It is proven, with proven market demand.
  • It spans entry level to high end markets.
  • As mentioned it is a Closed Loop species – we know we can breed it, feed it, grow it, sell it, all on demand.

What about other species? Permitting issues aside, you need to consider the Closed Loop hypothesis that we have developed for reference.

A Closed Loop species is one that presents as an aquaculture candidate for the simple reasons that

  • We can breed it. On demand. Anytime. Anywhere. In the event of a pinch we can buy in or import fry. i.e supply for the farm is 100% guaranteed.
  • We can feed it. We know the recipes. We know we can cost optimise feed since we know exactly what the feed makeup should be. Feed availability is guaranteed and in the event of a crisis can be imported. Feed is thus 100% guaranteed, from fry to harvest, at a predicable Feed Conversion Ratio.
  • We can grow it. We know the conditions, exactly, under which the fish can be grown. We know what stocking densities they grow at. We have accurate growth charts that are based on actual data. In other words we can create the set of conditions to grow the fish optimally at, because we know what these conditions are precisely.
  • We can sell it. We know what price we have to attain to sell the fish at to make the business viable. We know where we are likely to sell the fish and we know the likely demand for it. We know the impact of price variation on our business model.

It may look simple enough but the Closed Loop is deceptive. Few species can close the loop in the way that tilapia can before you commence production. Businesses who cannot answer all the questions posed in the Closed Loop hypothesis without 1,000% confidence will fail. There are numerous case studies on this – sadly many within South Africa that you can look up.

Tilapia is a Closed Loop species, possibly ahead of all others. Other closed loop species in Southern Africa would be abalone and trout in Southern Africa, and maybe catfish are starting to make a case although the sales side of things remains murky. 

We like tilapia as current production tonnages are low, but with market demand potentially orders of magnitude higher than for abalone or trout or catfish. Current tilapia production in South Africa is around 400 Tons Per Annum (TPA) according to DAFF. The skeptical would halve that figure. Considering that Egypt produces over a million tons per annum, almost none of it exported, and you can start to see the scale of the opportunity.

Permits

We’ve left the ugly to last. In South Africa, niloticus is classified as an invasive species. The Department of Environmental Affairs has their knickers in a knot about the species – some of us wonder why only now and not 17 years ago when it was brought to their attention that it was in the Limpopo river system but let’s not get into the politics of the powers that be.

Naughty fish. They clearly didn’t check their passports.

What this means is that you will need to jump through some hoops to get a permit to farm with the species. If you are in Limpopo, Mpumalanga or KZN you will be refused because of course, climatically there are the three best provinces to farm the species.

We don’t really mind – since RAS systems should typically be climate independent. But that’s the situation as it stands at the moment and no, we can’t sell you just a few to test with without a permit.

A permit is a 60 (working) day process of a schlep in which you need to get a National AIS permit from the DEA. It will cost you R200 for the permit, and if they decide you’re a risk they will need a risk assessment carried out by a 3rd party independent who will bill you R6k to R12k for the privilege.

You then need provincial permits for exactly the same thing. Don’t ask why, but that’s the way of things – creating government employment for aquaculture regulation seems to be the largest government focussed action in the aquaculture sector. You can tell we’re cynical right? Sorry about that.

This whole process is applicable whether you have one fish, or one hundred million fish. So for small aquaponic operations for which we receive a bazillion enquiries, we can’t help you by just supplying you a few niloticus.

However, it’s worth doing – getting your permit that is.

Remember what we said on page one. Mastering RAS skills is not easy. Do this and you become highly desirable as an employee or more importantly, as a fish farm business owner anywhere in the world. You most certainly do not have to locate your business in South Africa either – RAS is not location bound. As it is we conduct the majority of our sales outside of South Africa. Even if you’re not farming with niloticus, learning how to farm using RAS is a skill vastly in demand.