Indoor fish-farming is growing in appeal as producers look to find low-cost enterprises that use existing farm buildings and infrastructure.

Researchers at the University of Stirling have been developing small-scale, warm-water production systems for growing tilapia, a tropical fish with a firm white meat, as a diversification for UK farmers.

Tilapia, which is proving popular in the USA, has recently been introduced to the UK and is being promoted as sustainable substitute for other white fish such as cod.

Tilapia are already noted as a highly suitable species for low cost aquaculture as they can thrive on a low protein diet.

Being a tropical species, tilapia require a temperature of around 27C to grow, and under optimum conditions can reach a market size of 500g in six to eight months, compared to 18-24 months for rainbow trout currently grown in the UK.

Despite the prevailing British climate, appropriate use of insulation can keep energy costs low. There is significant potential for UK farmers to produce tilapia by insulating underused farm buildings, according to researchers at Stirling.

Market research suggests niche markets across the country are growing as awareness and acceptance increase. Three tilapia target groups in the UK have been identified: ethnic green and the gastro-pub set (a growing component of the wider foodservice market). Recent developments in the USA were also noted where consumption of this white fleshed fish has moved well beyond niche markets to become more mainstream (in 2006 it is estimated that the US market imported over 400,000t of tilapia, more than four times that of 2001).

The research team is now looking to develop and test a prototype recirculation system on farm and therefore would be interested in hearing from willing farmers.

  • Interested farmers should contact William Leschen (01786 467 899, wl2@stir.ac.uk) or Francis Murray (01786 467 926, fjm3@stir.ac.uk) at the Institute of Aquaculture, University of Stirling for details.