About our tilapia fingerlings
For thousands of years, every 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. When a fisherman catches one of these genetically pure tilapia directly from its natural environment and region of the world, it is unofficially known as an "F0". When a pair of these wild caught tilapia spawn in captivity, which is rare due to their wild nature, their offspring are then 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 more readily and can produce thousands of tilapia offspring. The next generation is known as "F2" and the cycle repeats to "F3" and so on.
Within a few generations a single pair of tilapia can spawn millions of relatives. In a perfect world, the people who take on the responsibilities of breeding tilapia 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 generations of tilapia are permitted to spawn with previous generations. For example, an "F4" spawns with it's own "F3" relative. 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 normally harvest all of the tilapia in a system at the same time, so any offspring that were spawned during the grow out phase are destroyed. But at the hatchery level, where the whole point is to raise baby tilapia, lack of proper management can quickly result in some very inferior fish. Unfortunately, in spite of the problems, 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 desired mutation. 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 due to the advancing effects of inbreeding, but some of the time they just represent the individual diversity that normally exists in nature. And therein lies the problem.
Note: The White colored Nile tilapia is a perfect example of a fish that can be created as a hybrid and can also occur naturally. Pure strain white Nile come from a particular lake in Egypt, whereas the "White Nile" being sold in the US is a careless hybrid of Nile and Blue tilapia.
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. In our own hatcheries every tilapia species is isolated by both distance and plumbing, but not everyone does this. Because tilapia possess chromatophores tilapia can change their colors to blend in with their environment or other tank mates making them indistinguishable from one another.
Note: The fact that tilapia have chromatophores is completely lost on amateur tilapia "hatcheries" and tilapia re-sellers. Chromatophores are why a Blue tilapia kept in a green tank will turn green and why an alpha female tilapia can impersonate the pink color of a spawning male for control of an aquarium. In fact, Blue tilapia appear blue in the wild because of the dark blue waters from where they originate. To make a Blue tilapia turn blue in captivity, you would have to keep it in an enclosure that is colored dark blue.
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 tilapia 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.