Oreochromis niloticus niloticus

Method of production — Farmed
Production country — China
Production method — Open pond
Picture of Tilapia

Sustainability rating four info

Sustainability overview

Farming tilapia in open ponds can lead to negative environmental impacts associated with open water production. Issues such as discharges, escapes, transfer of disease and parasites, habitat damage, water pollution or degradation. Tilapia are omnivores, and as such have a low requirement for fishmeal and fish-oil in their diets, making them a net producers of protein and therefore a valuable aquaculture species.

Feed Resources

Criterion score: -1 info

Tilapia are omnivorous, so low amounts of fish oil are used in Chinese tilapia farming, and fishmeal forms only a small part of their normal feed (around 2.5%). However, the volume of the Chinese tilapia farming industry means that this is still a significant fishmeal requirement. So-called trash fish (low value, inedible or juvenile fish) make up around 50% of China’s fishmeal production, and account for around one third of China’s wild-caught fish. This leads to high pressure on some vulnerable fish stocks and involves a high catch of juveniles, which is of concern. A more significant proportion of the feed is made up of soy products, up to 75%, but there is no data on whether the soy is sustainably sourced or not

Environmental Impacts

Criterion score: -7 info

There are a number of environmental impacts of tilapia farming in China, although data is not available in a number of areas (e.g. predator interactions, parasite transference, salinization, effluent). However, the scale of cultivation indicates that impacts, where they occur, can be significant. The biggest cause for concern is that there are indications that the overuse of antibiotics (including those critical for human health) is causing antibiotic resistance in the area. Tilapia are a highly invasive species, and not native to China, but wild populations have now established in fish farming areas. Chinese farms are frequently in flood-prone areas, meaning escapes are likely.

Fish Health and Welfare

Criterion score: -1 info

There is currently no national legislation relating to animal welfare


Criterion score: 0 info

It is difficult to get a clear picture of how well-managed tilapia farming is in China. There are regulations are in place, but it is unclear how well enforced they are or whether they are specific enough to make real improvements at a farm level. There is evidence that some regulations have been ineffective, but also recognition by China that it needs to improve its sustainability.

Production method

Open pond

Tilapia can be farmed in a number of ways, which varies according to country and size of production. They can be produced in open systems, using pens submerged in freshwater bodies, or in raceways that are flushed by streams.


Based on method of production, fish type, and consumer rating: only fish rated 2 and below are included as an alternative in the list below. Click on a name to show the sustainable options available.

Basa, Tra, Catfish or Vietnamese River Cobbler
Cod, Atlantic Cod
Cod, Pacific Cod
Coley, Saithe
Hake, European
Monkfish, Anglerfish, White
Pollock, Alaska, Walleye
Sturgeon (Farmed)


Tilapia is a generic name used to describe groups of fish called cichlids that are native to Africa. Tilapia are hardy, freshwater fish that tolerate a wide range of water conditions. They inhabit warm ponds, lakes and streams, and reproduce in fresh and brackish water. They mainly feed on phytoplankton, zooplankton and algae. They reach a maximum size of 45cm and a weight of 2kg.


NACA. A review of global tilapia farming practices. Available online at: http://www.enaca.org/modules/news/article.php?storyid=453

FAO 2005-2018.Cultured Aquatic Species Information Programme. Oreochromis niloticus. Cultured Aquatic Species Information Programme. Text by Rakocy, J. E. In: FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Department [online]. Rome. Updated 18 February 2005. [Cited 12 September 2018].

Bacterial Diseases of Finfish in the South East Asian Region. Available online at: http://www.thefishsite.com/articles/574/bacterial-diseasesof-Finfish-in-the-south-east-asian-region