Tilapia aquaculture takes place on a major scale in the Americas, Asia and Africa, but there has been very little activity in the UK.
Start-up operation UK Tilapia, based at Mepal, is now producing 250 tonnes a year and will build up to 500 tonnes, which is the capacity of the current site, later this year.
However, the company has planning permission for another farm on an adjacent site, and a farm is also being set up in Brittany. Annual production volumes should be up to 3,500 tonnes in three to five years.
Product is being taken by Young’s Bluecrest, M&J Seafoods and Chinese supermarkets. The fish is supplied chilled and arrives in-store in a far fresher condition than when it goes through international supply chains.
The Mepal operation was established by its main investor, Richard Crouch, who sees this type of aquaculture as having excellent prospects as it is environmentally friendly, with water circulating in a closed, filtrated system, and is also GM-free, with full traceability.
Imported fingerlings from the US are reared over seven months, with no hormonal or chemical influence. UK Tilapia hopes eventually to gain organic accreditation with an organic vegetarian diet of linseed.
General manager Phil Cherrie said: “Tilapia is the world’s seventh most consumed fish. The end product is a nice, white flesh suitable for any cuisine.”