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Tilapia fingerlings

A guide by Lakeway Tilapia

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All about tilapia fingerlings

What are tilapia fingerlings?

For longer than anyone reading this page has been alive, the word fingerling has been used to describe fish of a particular size. In fact, way back in the nineteenth century, when fingerling first entered the english language, its usage was intended to convey the size of fish and certain vegetables in a way that everyone could understand. However this was nothing new, people have been using parts of their body to describe measurements for thousands of years.

Skip ahead to the age of the Internet, where hardbound encyclopedias no longer exist and just about every online description is literally a copy-and-paste of someone else's mistakes, and nobody could be faulted for believing that tilapia fingerlings are nothing more than nondescript small fish. However, there are biological conditions that must be met before any fish reaches its fingerling stage. In the case of tilapia, the development of sexual organs, scales, and functional fins, marks the transition from fry to fingerling. At this point, healthy tilapia fingerlings weigh nearly one gram, and are about one inch long.

Warning: There are a lot of people with fancy websites selling tilapia "fingerlings" to first-timers hoping to save a few cents on fish for their aquaponic system or backyard pond. Look carefully at the description or contact the seller about the size of their "fingerlings". One half and three quarter inch tilapia are fry not fingerlings. Fry are worth much less than fingerlings because they are ungraded and have a high mortality rate. To understand how this affects you and your wallet, please read our page on tilapia fingerling grading.

The development of fry into tilapia fingerlings

The first few days of a young tilapia's life are spent in the safety of its mother's mouth, along with hundreds of its siblings. Eventually the mother can no longer contain their growing bulk, and she spits them out, never to return. At this stage, they are all roughly 3/16th of an inch long and gender-less. That's right, they are neither male, nor female. This is an important point to the discussion of tilapia fingerlings, because the fingerling stage comes after the development of sexual organs.

We have an excellent page to help you understand tilapia genetics, so we won't go into too great of detail here, but briefly - the gender of newly hatched tilapia is determined by the level of estrogen or testosterone present in their blood stream. In the wild, young tilapia are completely defenseless, and suffer a very high mortality rate. This is mainly due to predation by other fish. Genetics gives the tiny tilapia a fighting chance, by directing all of its energy into size development, and postponing gender determination, until after the fry is fast enough to dart into the safety of cover. This is why tilapia fry can eat up to 20 percent of their body weight every day. They are little growing machines, for the sake of survival.

After about 21 days, the gender of each tilapia has been determined, and provided that they have the other prerequisite scales and fins, they can officially graduate into tilapia fingerlings. We say about 21 days, because the actual number of days that tilapia eggs incubate, as well as the exact number of days that it takes for fry to develop, is ultimately determined by several factors, including species, growth rate as determined by individual genetics, water temperature, and food availability. It is not uncommon for even fast growth rate fry to take several more weeks to fully develop into tilapia fingerlings in the absence of a professional rearing environment, or proper nutrition.

Tilapia fingerlings are not clones of one another

Going back to the tilapia fry inside of their mother's mouth, each individual has been created with its own unique set of characteristics. These characteristics are known as traits. Some of these traits are so strong, or dominant, that every tilapia in the brood will inherit them, and some are so weak, that they will only be bestowed to a few individuals. There are traits that you can see, such as colors and scale patterns; and there are traits that you can't see, such as temperature tolerance, disease resistance, and aggressiveness. Rate of growth, body shape, and the propensity to spawn are all traits that are obvious after the tilapia fingerlings have been growing for some time.

Note: In the last sentence, we included propensity to spawn as a trait that can only be identified later in the lives of tilapia fingerlings. Many people think that every tilapia has a strong drive to procreate. When in fact, the tendency to spawn is a trait inherited on an individual basis like any other.

When Blue tilapia fry leave their mother's mouth, the only thing that they have in common is the fact that they are all Blue tilapia. They will have a few dominant traits that are shared by every member of the species. However, each individual will develop slightly different colors and scale patterns along the common Blue tilapia theme. About one-third of them will have inherited traits that boost their metabolism, causing them to grow faster than the rest. On the flip-side, another third of them will inherit traits that make them grow very slowly. All of the Blue tilapia will share a common low temperature tolerance of about 47º fahrenheit, however some individuals will be able to survive in even colder water. The same individual differences apply to all pure strain species of tilapia, including Nile and Wami.

Note: Pure strain species are those tilapia that were originally wild caught, and then maintained in captivity without any culling, crossing, or genetic modifications. They are exactly as they were 5,000+ years ago, with all of their possible traits included.

How to buy tilapia fingerlings

It wasn't so long ago that here at Lakeway Tilapia, our only business was to serve tilapia farms. In fact, we didn't charge anything for tilapia fingerlings. Our entire purpose was to maintain breeding colonies, also known as brood stock, as a service to large-scale aquaculture. The final result being a shipment of graded tilapia fingerlings to the clients farm. We still perform these services today.

A few years ago, when aquaponics and backyard tilapia farming began to gain momentum, our local residents started requesting tilapia fingerlings for their own systems. At first, we turned them away because all that we had to offer were the fingerlings that had been discarded after being graded. We couldn't, in good conscience, sell those atrociously slow-growing fish to anyone, let alone our neighbors. We soon came to realize however, that the only tilapia fingerlings available at the time were hatchery discards, and other people's accidental fry. We eventually decided to set aside a few extra breeding colonies to raise tilapia fingerlings for our local customers.

As time went on, we realized that by selling tilapia fingerlings to the public, we also had a responsibility to educate these customers. Some of the questions that we were being asked were based upon so much prior mis-information, that easy answers were impossible. Even worse, the overwhelming number of people selling random handfuls of unsorted tilapia fingerlings on the Internet had diluted the market so much, that people didn't even know what to ask for. We made it our mission to educate people about tilapia fingerlings and tilapia farming in general. The result is the website you are currently reading.

Note: If you haven't read our mission statement, you should check out our tilapia farming success page. It explains why we started this website in the first place.

So now that you know why we sell tilapia fingerlings, it's time to teach you what to ask for.

  • If you need fewer than 500 tilapia fingerlings or fry for any purpose.

Purchasing fewer than 500 fingerlings or fry is pretty straightforward. Simply decide on a species, and a grade, then go to our tilapia fingerlings for sale page and place your order. If you need help selecting a species, visit our live tilapia selection guide, and if you need help understanding the different grades, read our page on tilapia fingerling grading.

  • If you need tilapia fingerlings for a 330 gallon IBC tote.

Using the formula of 3.74 gallons per pound of tilapia, you can put 88 harvest size tilapia in one 330 gallon tote. However, since IBC totes are rarely filled to capacity, you should limit your tilapia to 85. If your tote is part of an aquaponics system, you should select aquaponics or food grade tilapia fingerlings. If you need help understanding the 3.74 gallon formula, read about oxygen on our tilapia farming guide.

  • If you need tilapia fingerlings for a 275 gallon IBC tote.

Technically, you can put 73 one-pound tilapia in a 275 gallon IBC tote. However, most people keep the water level down by a few gallons, so 70 pounds of tilapia is a more reasonable number.

Aquaponics Point: When determining the maximum number of tilapia fingerlings to put in an aquaponics system, only consider the gallons of water available to the fish for swimming. Do not count the water in the grow beds or other system components.

  • If you need between 500 and 1000 tilapia fingerlings.

While the cost of individual fingerlings at quantities between 500 and 1000 doesn't mandate the use of our hatchery services, as the quantity goes up, the price starts to reflect the costs of shipping more and more. For this reason, we recommend that you purchase tilapia fry instead of fingerlings. There is a point at which the cost of shipping fingerlings is actually larger than the cost of setting up a temporary holding tank to raise tilapia fry instead. For quantities of between 500 and 1000, you are basically sharing a cost of between $160 and $320 for shipping. When you consider the price of an aquarium or two to use while the fry develop into fingerlings, you are saving a lot of money for very little work on your part.

We also recommend that you buy a quantity of fry equal to 2½ times the number of tilapia fingerlings that you actually want. The natural mortality rate of tilapia fry, even in our computer-controlled environment is high, and in your system it will be even higher. Add to this, the fact that only about 30% of the fry will develop into food grade tilapia fingerlings, and you'll understand why we recommend that you purchase 2½ times.

Important Point: Depending on their water conditions, tilapia fry can decompose in just a few hours after they die, giving the fish-keeper the illusion that there have been no deaths.

  • If you need more than 1000 tilapia fingerlings.

For tilapia farmers requiring more than 1000 tilapia fingerlings our hatchery services are the only economical option and the only viable option for commercial tilapia production. As a hatchery services customer, we work for you as if you had your own on-site hatchery. In fact, when you consider the costs, taxes, insurances, and liabilities of running your own hatchery, we're a bargain. As a hatchery services customer, you don't pay for tilapia fingerlings. Instead you pay a low monthly fee based on the number of breeding colonies that it takes to fulfill your needs. After that, your only expense is transporting your tilapia fingerlings to you. In many cases this can be handled by an inexpensive courier. Of course, if you prefer, you can pick up your tilapia fingerlings at our hatchery, and visit with your brood stock while you're here.

  • If you need tilapia fingerlings for pond algae control.

Pre-ordering for the season is another great way to save money on large one-time purchases. If you own property with a pond, and buy tilapia every year to keep the algae and other aquatic nuisance vegetation under control, consider ordering your spring pond stock a few months in advance. Every year, we do our best to anticipate the needs of our first-time customers. However, with the growing popularity of aquaponics and small aquaculture, this is no easy task. If we produce too many fish, our costs go up without any way of recovering our investment. If we raise too few, we are forced to broker purchases from our commercial hatchery service customers which drives the cost of the tilapia fingerlings upward. By pre-ordering large quantities of tilapia in advance, we are able to plan ahead so that you can be afforded the lowest possible price, and guaranteed arrival when your pond is ready.