Livestock farmers are being encouraged to convert their barns and chicken sheds for tilapia production to help grow the market for the fish in the UK.

Kent-based Weardale Fish Farms has called for farmers in the south east to install tanks and filtration systems to produce tilapia.

The UK presented a largely untapped market for tilapia, which could provide a sustainable alternative to threatened species such as cod, it said.

Tilapia was an easy and profitable fish for farmers to produce and tapped into growing demand for locally produced, sustainably farmed fish, said marketing manager Angela Rowe.

Retailers were increasingly interested in stocking the species, which despite being hugely popular in Asia and South America, was currently only a small market in the UK, she added.

"The potential for tilapia is enormous," said Rowe. "It's the biggest-selling food fish in the world, so as diversification goes it's a no-brainer."

The company received its first shipment of 100,000 tilapia two weeks ago from an Indonesian farm certified by Defra's Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science.

Weardale plans to keep half of each monthly shipment for itself and sell on the rest to farmers as fingerlings, which would then be grown to full size in about eight months.

The Omega-3-rich fish was likely to be priced at about the same level as red snapper and sea bass and would be sold either filleted or gutted whole, said Rowe. The pinky-white fish has a mild taste and is being positioned as ideal to cook with a sauce.

Weardale, which has received Safe and Local Supplier Approval, previously mainly supplied Billingsgate market but has now secured a listing at Sainsbury's.

It is also supplying M&J Seafood and is in discussions with Young's and New England Seafood.