By Dr. Rafael Guerrero III

The first saline red tilapia was developed in the 1970s by Mike Sipes in the United States. He crossbred the mutant male Mozambique tilapia (Oreochromis mossambicus), which had a reddish-yellow color, with the dark-colored female of the Wami tilapia (O. hornorum) to produce a hybrid that could tolerate salinities (salt concentrations) of 32 parts per thousand (ppt) or more. The hybrid has been referred to as the “Florida Red Tilapia” or “Cherry Snapper.”

Acclimation tank for Kingfish fingerlings.

In Panabo City, Davao del Norte, there is a saline red tilapia known as “Kingfish” which is being cage cultured at the Panabo City Mariculture Park
(PCMP) by an innovative fish farmer-entrepreneur. At 74, Pedro Pacatang or “Pete” is considered the pioneer of commercial saline red tilapia production in the country. Pacatang told us that his red tilapia strain is the “Cherry Snapper.”

Pacatang has been a Nile tilapia (O. niloticus) hatchery operator since 1990, with his six-hectare fish- farm in Carmen, Davao del Norte. He was the Department of Agriculture’s Gawad Saka Awardee of Region XI for aquaculture in 2009 for his model tilapia hatchery, which produced all-male (sexreversed) fingerlings. In 2014, he started producing sex-reversed fingerlings of the Kingfish, which he has successfully acclimated and grown to market sizes in sea cages of the PCMP.

In Pacatang’s tilapia hatchery, breeding of the fish and rearing of its young are done in freshwater ponds in hapas (fine-mesh net enclosures). The fertilized eggs in the mouths of female breeders are collected by hand and reared in an indoor facility with artificial incubators. The fry are then stocked in the outdoor hapas for sex-reversal treatment and reared to fingerlings with average weights of 5-20 grams per piece in 1-2 months with commercial feeds and artificial aeration. The hatchery produces 50,000-100,000 fingerlings of Nile and red tilapia in a month.

The Pacatang tilapia hatchery in Carmen, Davao del Norte.

From the freshwater hatchery, the large red tilapia fingerlings are brought to Panabo City (about 30 minutes away by truck) for acclimation to seawater in tanks built of marine plywood in a building near the PCMP. The fish is acclimated from 0 ppt salinity to 35 ppt at the rate of 5 ppt per day for at least seven days. In the process, pumped sea water is mixed with freshwater for the desired salinity level in the aerated tanks to allow the fish to gradually adapt to the marine environment.

The acclimated fingerlings are stocked at 10,000 per cage in 10 x 10 x 4 meter floating cages made of bamboo frames with floating plastic drums and polyethylene net enclosures, and cultured for four months with feeding of commercial pellets. The fish is harvested with market-sizes of 250-300 grams apiece and a survival rate of 70-80%. Ex-farm prices for live Kingfish are P150-P200 per kilo.

According to Pacatang, the demand for the saline red tilapia of Panabo City is only limited to the live fish market catering to seafood restaurants, unlike with the dark-colored tilapia, which is better accepted by consumers in fresh fish markets. He is now developing a dark-colored saline tilapia hybrid.

This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s April 2018 issue.