There are nearly a hundred species of tilapia, a mainly freshwater fish that lives in shallow streams, ponds and rivers. They can become invasive and significantly disrupt native species in warm waters beyond their original habitats in Africa and the Middle East, but they are unable to survive the cold waters of temperate climates. In the United States, tilapia are found throughout the South, especially in Florida and Texas. They have been used to control mosquito populations in Africa and to control algae and plant growth in other areas.
Because tilapia are fast growing and tolerate high stocking densities and poor water quality, they have become increasingly important to aquaculture. They feed on plant material, not other fish, which reduces the cost of raising them and the pressure on prey fish; The fact that they are herbivores also means that they do not consume toxins, like mercury, often found in carnivorous large fish.
Now the most farmed fish in the world, tilapia usually is sold in fillets that have white flesh and a bland flavor, winning them the title “aquatic chickens.” China is the world’s largest tilapia producer, followed by Egypt and tropical countries like Papua New Guinea, the Philippines and Indonesia. They also are widely cultivated in the United States and Israel. Tilapia are considered a good food fish, not too bony and low in saturated fat, calories, carbohydrates and sodium. They also are a good protein source.