About our tilapia
Pure genetic lines
Over thousands of years, each species of tilapia has developed unique traits to help it resist disease and thrive in its own natural environment. Blue tilapia from the Sea of Galilee in Israel and Nile tilapia from the Nile River in Egypt are as different from each other as they are from the tilapia caught in the waters of Mozambique or the Wami river in Tanzania. Whenever a fisherman catches one of these genetically pure tilapia directly from nature, it is unofficially known as an F0. When a pair of these wild caught tilapia spawn in captivity, which is very difficult due to their wild nature, their offspring are referred to as F1. These first captive tilapia are raised in aquariums, given a manufactured diet and become well adjusted to human contact. They breed prolifically and rapidly produce thousands of tilapia offspring. This next generation is known as F2 and then the cycle repeats to F3 and so on.
Within a few years a single pair of wild caught tilapia and their children and grandchildren can spawn millions of relatives. In a perfect world, the people who take on the responsibilities of breeding tilapia would maintain strict generational controls to ensure the continued purity of these lines. But accidents and careless experiments that result in unwanted cross breeding and inbreeding are common.
Inbreeding occurs when generation after generation are permitted to spawn with each other in a close-knit group. Inbreeding causes far too many problems to list, but the main ones are deformity, shortened lifespan, changes to water quality tolerances and of course, disease. Commercial aquaculture facilities take simple measures to prevent spawning in their grow out tanks and ponds so inbreeding isn't usually an issue there. But at the hatchery level, where the whole point is to raise baby tilapia, lack of proper genetic diversity management can result in some very inferior fish. Unfortunately, in spite of the warnings, many amateur hatcheries still insist on messing around with mother nature.
Certain color traits as seen in the "Hawaiian Gold" or the "White Nile", are created by cross breeding different species of tilapia together to get the general color desired, and then culling the new hybrid offspring to single out the exact mutation they're after. This practice isn't limited to colors. The same process is used to make hybrid tilapia with other traits such as bigger filets or faster rates of growth. In some cases, these rare "traits" are actually mutations due in part to the advancing effects of inbreeding, but most of the time they just represent the individual diversity that normally exists in nature. And therein lies the problem.
The diversity in nature is measured in the millions and culling out unwanted traits can take a very long time. Even after years of time invested, it might not even be possible to single out a breeding pair that will reproduce the desired results consistently. Impatience and a desire for financial gain has driven even the most seasoned breeders to forego proper genetic management in the hopes of speeding up the process. And when it comes to amateur breeders, all good intentions aside, they simply don't possess the necessary knowledge or equipment needed to identify the unseen and unwanted traits that they are bringing into dominance with their methods.
Unwanted cross breeding occurs when tilapia of two different species unintentionally spawn together. Tilapia are extremely resilient fish. We have seen them live to fingerling size inside of filtration systems after passing through the pump as fry. We've even seen fingerlings jump out of one aquarium and land in another at feeding times. At our own hatcheries, each tilapia species is isolated by both distance and plumbing, but not everyone does this. Once together, tilapia from different species will spawn and their offspring may not be so easy to tell from pure strain. If these offspring are mis-identified and continue to breed with a pure line species, the subsequent generations of tilapia could require a DNA sequencer to identify with any level of certainty.
To illustrate this point, it took us over two years to locate a true pure strain Blue tilapia for our breeding program. Out of hundreds of supposedly pure strain Blues purchased from reputable breeders who honestly believed that theirs were a pure strain, our client (a research laboratory) kept rejecting them. Fortunately, our persistence paid off and after being let down more times that we'd ever care to re-live, we found a pure strain. The root of the problem was that the Blue tilapia breeding colonies that were being sold as pure strain, had come from a previously contaminated line that swept throughout the industry.
So why is all of this important to you? Well, when you do any kind of farming, you have the right to expect that you are growing disease free food and that it will perform exactly as expected. If you plant a bag of corn seed that is supposed to be drought tolerant and disease resistant, you have the right to expect that it is. If a fish dealer tells you that a certain species of tilapia can grow to 20 ounces in six months, thrive in a pH range of 3 to 11 and in water with a dissolved oxygen content of only 3ppm, you have the right to expect those results. Unlike land animals that show obvious signs of sickness, disease and deformity, tilapia do not. The best way to ensure that you are putting the finest fish on your table is to raise only naturally colored pure strain tilapia, or carefully managed tilapia hybrids that have stood the test of time.