Golden Freshwater Clam

Tilapia market (2008)

According to estimations from 2007, the annual world-wide tilapia production will probably reach 4 million tonnes in the near future and this would make the production of tilapia exceed that of salmon. Tilapia can also be caught from the wild, but many consumers prefer farmed varieties grown in a controlled environment since they have a more uniform taste. By purchasing farmed tilapia it is also possible to get popular red tilapia varieties that do not exist in the wild. In Africa and the Levant, wild caught tilapia is still an important source of protein for many local populations.

Tilapia buyers

A majority of the farmed tilapia is consumed domestically and only abut 10 percent is traded on the global market. The main export destination for tilapia is the United States, since the domestic production is far too small to satisfy demand. According to a report from Globefish (, the total U.S. imports in 2007 were estimated at 170 000 tonnes. Taking a conversation factor of 2.85 for tilapia fillets, this gives about 400 000 tonnes of tilapia.  

Tilapia is now the fifth most popular seafood consumed in the United States. The demand for frozen fillets is on a sharp increase, while whole frozen tilapia is becoming less popular. In 2003, the U.S. annual consumption of tilapia was no more than a quarter of a pound per person. By 2006, it had quadrupled to a full pound. The increase might be partly due to consumer concerns about high levels of mercury in fish, since tilapia is known for its low mercury content. According to the US Department of Health, pregnant women can safely consume tilapia, herring or whiting up to five times per week as long as the serving size is no larger than 6 ounces.

A majority of the fish imported to the United States are frozen fish fillets produced in China. When the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned the import of several types of farmed seafood from China in 2007, they decided not to include tilapia on the list of prohibited animals. There is however an ongoing discussion regarding the water quality in Chinese tilapia farms.

The market for fresh tilapia fillets is satisfied by countries much closer to the United States, primarily Honduras, Costa Rica and Ecuador. In these tropical countries, tilapia can be farmed year round and fresh tilapia fillets can therefore be exported 12 months a year.   

As mentioned above, there is also a domestic production of tilapia in the United States, but it is not very large compared to immense quantities of tilapia fish imported annually. In 2007, U.S. tilapia farms yielded about 20 million pounds of tilapia. A vast majority of these fishes were sold live at Asian markets in the U.S. or purchased directly by restaurants. 

In the United States, frozen tilapia fillets from China will normally cost no more than $2 per pound in grocery stores. Fresh fillets are more expensive and you can expect to pay at least $5 per pound for them. Tilapia from domestic farms will normally cost from $8 to $10 per pound. The price of frozen tilapia which was on an incessant decline for several years now seems to have bottomed out. The price has even increased somewhat in 2007, primarily due to a scarcity of traditional whitefish and a lowered catfish import from China. Feeding tilapia has also become more expensive for the farmers.

Less than 15 000 tonnes of tilapia are imported to the European Union each year, but numbers might rise significantly in the near future as more and more consumers are looking for alternatives to endangered species like cod.    

Tilapia producers

China is by far the largest exporter of tilapia in the world. According to Globefish (, Chinese export of tilapia reached 108 000 tonnes in the first 11 months of 2007. This was an increase with almost 20 percent compared to the first 11 months of 2006 and the export of frozen tilapia fillets grew by over 40 percent in the first 11 months of 2007.

After China, the leading suppliers of frozen tilapia for the global market are Indonesia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Thailand. Iran and India have just decided to allow tilapia farming and it will be interesting to see how large their contribution to the global tilapia market will be in a few years.

As mentioned above, United States consumers buy their fresh tilapia primarily from countries located in Central- and South America, such as Honduras, Costa Rica and Ecuador. In 2005 and 2006, fish disease caused momentous problems for Costa Rican tilapia farmers, but the export of fresh tilapia fillets is now on the increase again. Honduras and Ecuador are also reporting increasing exports, while Brazilian tilapia farmers have decrease their export dramatically since they have found it more beneficial to sell their fish domestically.