Keeping Tilapia from Breeding

Some one asked about breeding fish not too long ago and I realized I haven’t yet talked much about breeding tilapia. Breeding tilapia is easy and the normal question that follows is how do I keep them from breeding? This can be a blessing or a curse in aquaponics so it is best to do some research.

Tilapia are mouth brooders. The male will make a “nest” by clearing a space on the bottom and enticing a female to come lay eggs for him to fertilize, then the female will pick the eggs back up in her mouth to care for them. It is important to note that Female tilapia don’t grow nearly as fast as Male tilapia in the first place and then when breeding, the female tilapia don’t get to eat so they are not going to be growing well at all. Also when the males are putting energy and effort into breeding behavior, they will also not be eating and growing as much either. These are kinda important points to those people who are expecting to get large tilapia out of a system in a short period of time.

One way to keep tilapia from breeding is to get all male stock. There are a few ways to do this. One would be to grow the fingerlings out to a certain size and then by hand go through and check their gender. This is rather labor intensive and prone to errors and the fish need to be large enough for the gender to be obvious. More commonly people buy fry that have been treated with hormone laced feed to get the fish to all develop as males, this is the way most commercial operations do it. Finally there are some breeding operations that create all male stock by cross breeding different species of tilapia, sometimes with one of the parents being a hormone treated fish.

Now I didn’t get all male stock because I thought I would want to breed some of my own stock. So to keep my main population of tilapia from breeding, I kept them in a cage so the fish could not access a bottom surface from which to pick the eggs back up. This actually worked fairly well as long as I didn’t drop a piece of pipe into the cage as a hide for them (they can use a pipe fitting as a breeding cave.) Now the problems with cage culture have to do with feeding. How do you keep the feed from floating out of the cage before it’s eaten? There are some possible methods but none of them perfect.

I would not depend on using temperature to stop them from breeding since that only seems to work when one is trying to get them to breed and not when one doesn’t want it to happen in a big tank.

Next article I’ll talk a bit about what worked for me in breeding tilapia and what resulted in battered fish.

11 comments to Keeping Tilapia from Breeding

  • Sminfiddle

    “Battered Fish” will drive more traffic to the site, but it will be recipe seekers. Here is one that may keep them from immediately leaving:

    1 Egg (chicken or equivalent size)
    1 cup all-purpose flour
    1 can (12 oz.) Beer
    Salt, pepper and paprika to taste
    1 additional cup flour

    Combine ingredients, reserving the 1 additional cup of flour in a shallow pan. Dredge fish fillets in the dry flour, then coat in batter on all surfaces.
    Fry in oil at 350 degrees F until golden brown or it smells like cooked fish.

  • TCLynx

    LOL, thanks for that. I guess I need to get more of the cooks fish recipes in here some time.

  • Randy

    hi there, I need 2 talk 2 somebody about tlapia production, I like ur article though but I need more. I’m into animal science in a university here more over I’d like 2 go into actual prodn after school. right now I’m presenting my thesis topic PRODUCING ALL MALE TILAPIA THROUGH CROSSBREEDING OF T. HORNORUM, T. MAZAMBICA,(MALES) WITH T. NILOTICA FEMALES. for vetting.

  • TCLynx

    Hi Randy,
    At this point I suspect you have more experience or at least book knowledge on the subject of tilapia production that I do now. I no longer even keep tilapia and when I did I was only successful at breeding them when I left them to their own devices in a large tank with access to the bottom. All I ever owned were just mixed gender Blue Tilapia and not special all male production varieties.

  • Bok


    No matter how to put chemical(to make them cannot lay eggs) into the fish food, you cannot stop fish breeding if the water condition is suitable for Tilapia to survive.
    I can suggest that put 500 meat eater fish such as Catfish mixed with 10000 Tilapia. The roles of catfishes are to eat all the baby of Tilapia. *remember to control the sizes between tilapia and catfish.

  • TCLynx

    My catfish were too well fed to be good at catching tilapia fry. It was far easier to do the cage culture thing so that the females couldn’t pick the eggs back up and therefore the breeding couldn’t be successfully carried out and it made harvest of the fish really easy too.

    I’m not into the hormones or chemicals in the feed to keep tilapia from breeding.

  • Ken

    Hi TCLynx,

    I read your article above, and enjoyed it. I have a suggestion with your cage idea.

    What if you ‘sank’ a cage some, simply to keep them from the bottom of the tank, then letting them feed freely above it?

    Just thought of that while reading…I’ll shut up now…LOL

    – Ken

    • Ken

      I reread what I posted, and it probably needs clarification.

      The fish would be outside the cage. The sunken cage would keep them from the bottom surface, but they would swim freely above it.

      – K

      • TCLynx

        So basically you are talking about a grate several inches above the bottom of the tank, I expect it has been done. It wouldn’t help in harvest since the fish wouldn’t be inside the cage to make it easy to lift them out, it also wouldn’t help much if you were wanting to grow different kinds or different sizes of fish in the same tank but it would take care of the problem of food floating out of the cages.

  • Finral

    What is the fry which are treated with male hormones. Can it be bought in stores.?

    • TCLynx

      You would have to find a tilapia breeding operation for that. I don’t believe any tilapia are sold in retail shops. Depending on where you are, tilapia may be a restricted species. I haven’t raised any tilapia in almost a decade. I prefer to raise locally native fish, in my location that means channel catfish or bluegill or sunfish. Under our average temperature conditions, the channel catfish always seemed to grow faster than the tilapia and way bigger too. I would only consider growing tilapia again if I were growing indoors with free heat/electricity OR if I were in a truly tropical climate with year round average temperatures between 76 and 80 degrees F AND had a strong local market for Tilapia but NOT catfish.

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