Tilapia has become the third most important fish in aquaculture after carp and salmon. Worldwide production of Tilapia has exceeded 1.5 million metric tons (1.5×106 long tons) and increases annually.
Because of their high protein content, large size, rapid growth (6 to 7 months to grow to harvest size),[and good taste, a number of coptodonine and oreochromine cichlids—specifically, various species of Coptodon, Oreochromis, and Sarotherodon—are the focus of major aquaculture efforts.
Tilapia fisheries originated in Africa and to a large area in the Eastern Mediterranean region of Western Asia. The accidental and deliberate introductions of tilapia into South and Southeast Asian freshwater lakes have inspired outdoor aquaculture projects in various countries with tropical climates, including Honduras, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, and Indonesia. Tilapia farm projects in these countries have the highest potential to be "green" or environmentally friendly. In temperate zone localities, tilapia farmers typically need a costly energy source to maintain a tropical temperature range in their tanks. One relatively sustainable solution involves warming the tank water using waste heat from factories and power stations. Tilapia farm projects and Aquaponics System setup across America and the world has also been a boon to the popularity of Tilapia.
Tilapia are among the easiest and most profitable fish to farm due to their omnivorous diet, mode of reproduction (the fry do not pass through a planktonic phase), tolerance of high stocking density, and rapid growth. In some regions the fish can be raised in rice fields at planting time and grow to edible size (12–15 cm, 5–6 in) when the rice is ready for harvest. Unlike salmon, which rely on high-protein feeds based on fish or meat, commercially important Tilapia eat a vegetable or cereal-based diet.
Tilapia raised in inland tanks or channels are considered safe for the environment, since their waste and disease is contained and not spread to the wild. However, Tilapia have acquired notoriety as being among the most serious invasive species in many subtropical and tropical parts of the world . For example, blue tilapia (Oreochromis aureus) (itself commonly confused with another species often used in aquaculture, the Nile tilapia, O. niloticus), Mozambique tilapia (O. mossambicus), blackchin tilapia (Sarotherodon melanotheron), spotted tilapia (Pelmatolapia mariae), and redbelly tilapia (Coptodon zillii) have all become established in the southern United States, particularly in Florida and Texas.
Commercially grown tilapia are almost exclusively male. Being prolific breeders, female Tilapia in the ponds or tanks will result in large populations of small fish. Whole tilapia can be processed into skinless, boneless (PBO) fillets: the yield is from 30% to 37%, depending on fillet size and final trim.
Being able to produce a higher portion of male Tilapia during breeding is actually accomplished after the fish hatch and is done so through the use of heat.