Catfish or Tilapia: Which Fish is Ideal for Your Aquaponics System?

Historically, fish farming started in ponds on farms to locally raise food high in protein; and today aquaculture has become a cultural and identity trait to many communities. The farming of the fish in question that has been used in the last 4,000 years has changed followed by new techniques and approaches continually developed to enhance production and yields. Aquaculture, one of the oldest food production systems in the world, potentially holds the key to meeting the expected protein demand of the growing global population, highlights Aquaculture Frontires.


Today’s modern debate around aquaculture, aside from the myths in society, is how and what to cultivate so that our carbon, water, and other footprint are minimised. One such solution is the aquaponics model. If you decided to set up an aquaponics system, most probably you have heard about catfish and tilapia. These are the most well-known fish among aquaponic producers globally, if not the most well-known. But a common mistake made by novice aquaponics system creators is to find themselves undecided between starting with tilapia or catfish

Coexisting or farmed separately?

Before moving on to discuss the pros and cons of both catfish and tilapia, we need to understand a crucial fact: both species are excellent choices for novice aquaponic system starters. There won’t be many problems if you try to raise one species alone or both species together. However, there are certain facts about them that will help you decide which species suits you the best.

For example, it is important to note that both catfish and tilapia have similar living conditions, so raising them in the same tank would not prove to be a difficult job. But, living conditions are not the only ones to take into consideration. For this harmonious relationship to work, both species have to be of the same size and growth stage to prevent tilapia from being eaten by catfish. But let’s look at each of the fish individually. 

Catfish vs Tilapia In Aquaponics

Beginners enjoy raising catfish for a variety of reasons, one of which is their adaptability to varying temperatures. It is typical for the temperature of the tank to fluctuate during the day, and catfish are not affected by it. They can actually survive at temperatures as low as about 23°C. Catfish are known to be heavy waste producers – favoring the growth of hydroponic plants but sometimes causing more labor to growers as they need to pay careful attention to the water quality of the tank. Important to highlight is that catfish are omnivorous bottom feeders so they require tanks that are more horizontal rather than vertical. A horizontally wide aquaponics tank floor is crucial for the actual feeding process of catfish. For growers with limited space, this could cause some concern. Unlike Tilapia, Catfish do not tend to reach the maturation stage earlier so the overproduction of fish does not need to be managed carefully. 

Tilapia, being a dense protein fish, has been used worldwide by countries to produce high-protein food at relatively low cost. Just as Catfish species, Tilapia can easily withstand temperature fluctuations so they make excellent fish choices for aquaponics systems. However, unlike Catfish, Tilapia are surface feeders meaning that tanks do not need a wide floor – giving growers greater space building variety. When feeding, Tilapia can be simply fed by throwing food pellets into the water and the fish will happily pick it either from the surface, or when the pellets submerge. One thing to mention when considering Tilapia for aquaponics systems is that the species has a high appetite for algae. In many fish farms, tilapia has been used as an algae management technique and is an especially good option for aquaponic systems that are exposed to sunshine every day.  

Fish feed – an important component of aquaponics systems

One of the key factors in the quality of both catfish and tilapia is the quality of the feed they are given. Commercial fish feed, which is designed to give fish the nutrition they require to grow and thrive, could sometimes use feed that contains hormones, antibiotics, or other additives. For the INCiTiS-FOOD project, delivering the most nutrient-rich, sustainable and healthy fish is a top priority and that is why through our circular food system approach we integrate the use of insects as fish feed. By producing fish feed locally and controlling what goes into it, we positively influence the production process. Even though viewed as controversial, insects are a natural food source for fish, especially for carnivorous and omnivorous fish. Read our blog post on Dispelling Common Misconceptions About Insect Farming to learn more.

Asian young couple farmer in greenhouse hydroponic holding basket of vegetable. They are harvesting vegetables green salad.

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