Just the other day I took a trip out to Escondido, which is in East San Diego County to pick up a few Tilapia from the couple over at the Escondido Tilapia Farm. They had a really cool and inspiring set-up to raise Tilapia for local fish farmers and urban aquaponic fanatics like myself.
The tilapia were kept in a 900 square foot barn which is filled with a number of different size pools and breading tanks. All of the fish are separated out by size and date of birth, with the larger fish sharing the big community pools.The water is heated by running a four hundred foot plastic irrigation hose through a huge pile of compost that is nearly two stories high. The compost pile generally stays at around 140 degrees Fahrenheit, which heats the water up around 8-9 degrees. The water leaves the tanks at around 71 degrees then re-enters the tanks after traveling through the compost pile at around 80 degrees which is perfect for the fish.
Each day they do a 25% water change to keep the ammonia levels down. They use the dirty water to water their plants in their field, and replace it with fresh well water. They are planning on setting up a full greenhouse to start incorporating an ebb and flow aquaponics system to clean their water in the future. Everything is ran off of solar panels making their operation nearly completely sustainable and almost entirely off of the grid.
Inside the barn they had a number of different breading communities set up. These were the typical communities that many breeders tend to use. Tilapia will breed on their own, if the conditions are right. However is you want to be able to track the birth and start breeding you hybrid versions you need to set up a breading tank. To do this they separated 5 or 6 female fish that are ready for breading with one male fish. All of them are put into a minimum 55 gallon tank.
Inside the tank you they added a few 6 inch cuts of 3 inch PVC tubes plus a flower pot for protection. The female fish like to hide when they are laying their eggs. These PVC tubes and flower pot offer the perfect protection needed for the female fish. Tilapia are mouth brooders, meaning that they like to keep their eggs in their mouth until they hatch and become fry. Once the fish become fry and start swimming on they are removed from the tank for protection from their mother and the other fish in the community.
They sell full grown tilapia that were around 1 1/2 lbs to local cooks and families in the area that were looking for fresh tilapia that are naturally grown without hormones. It was a lot of fun and a very informative trip for me.