Exotic from Africa and coastal rivers of Israel. At least four varieties of tilapia have been introduced into Arizona since the 1960’s. Extensive hybridization often makes identification difficult. Similar in body shape to bluegill. Two-part lateral line with front portion higher on body than rear portion. Very long, unbroken dorsal fin and anal fin with pointed ends. Length: 4 to 18 inches. Weight: 6 ounces to over 5 pounds. May live up to 9 years.
Location and Habitat
Found in the Salt and Gila Rivers and in the network of canals and ditches in farming areas between Phoenix and Yuma. Often stocked in canals and artificial lakes for algae and vegetation control. Isolated populations exist in the Salt River lakes, Alamo Lake, Lake Pleasant, and Roper Lake. Mortality results from prolonged winter exposure to temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
Internal livebearers, these fish typically mature between 3 to 6 months of age. Spawning occurs when water temperatures reach 68 degrees. Several species of tilapia are mouthbrooders with the female incubating the eggs inside the mouth where larvae hatch and remain for one week. The male has nothing to do with the eggs or young. However, the Zilli’s tilapia build nests and both male and females guard the eggs and young.
Primarily vegetation and algae eaters, although they will take insects and worms.
Fish during warmer months with small worms, crickets and dough balls on small hooks (size 12). Extremely wary and line shy, tilapia are difficult to catch. Use 2-4 pound fluorocarbon line with no weight. The fish are most aggressive during the spring spawning period. In addition to angling, tilapia may also be taken by bow and arrow, crossbow, snare, gig, spear and speargun as long as none of these methods are practiced within two hundred yards of any boat dock or designated swimming area.
The white, fine textured meat has a very mild flavor. The tilapia has become a popular fresh water fish in grocery stores. Flavor of tilapia may diminish during summer periods as consumed algae impart a muddy or musty taste.