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is tilapia a bottom feeder

is tilapia a bottom feeder

is tilapia a bottom feeder

Hello. Welcome to solsarin. This post is about “is tilapia a bottom feeder“.


It (/tɪˈlɑːpiə/ tih-LAH-pee-ə) is the common name for nearly a hundred species of cichlid fish from the coelotilapine, coptodonine, heterotilapine, oreochromine, pelmatolapiine, and tilapiine tribes (formerly all were “Tilapiini”), with the economically most important species placed in the Coptodonini and Oreochromini. Tilapia are mainly freshwater fish inhabiting shallow streams, ponds, rivers, and lakes, and less commonly found living in brackish water. Historically, they have been of major importance in artisanal fishing in Africa, and they are of increasing importance in aquaculture and aquaponics. Tilapia can become a problematic invasive species in new warm-water habitats such as Australia, whether deliberately or accidentally introduced, but generally not in temperate climates due to their inability to survive in cold water.

Tilapia is the fourth-most consumed fish in the United States dating back to 2002. The popularity of tilapia came about due to its low price, easy preparation, and mild taste.


The aquaculture of Nile tilapia goes back to Ancient Egypt, where it was represented by the hieroglyph K1, of the Gardiner list: 𓆛

Tilapia was a symbol of rebirth in Egyptian art, and was in addition associated with Hathor. It was also said to accompany and protect the sun god on his daily journey across the sky. Tilapia painted on tomb walls, is reminiscent of spell 15 of the Book of the Dead by which the deceased hopes to take his place in the sun boat: “You see the tilapia in its [true] form at the turquoise pool”, and “I behold the tilapia in its [true] nature guiding the speedy boat in its waters.”

is tilapia a bottom feeder
is tilapia a bottom feeder

Sea of Galilee

Tilapia were one of the three main types of fish caught in Talmudic times from the Sea of Galilee, specifically the Galilean comb (Sarotherodon galilaeus). Today, in Modern Hebrew, the fish species is called amnoon (probably a compound of am, “mother” and noon, “fish”). In English, it is sometimes known by the name “St. Peter’s fish”, which comes from the story in the Gospel of Matthew about the apostle Peter catching a fish that carried a coin in its mouth, though the passage does not name the fish.

While the name also applies to Zeus faber, a marine fish not found in the area, a few tilapia species (Sarotherodon galilaeusOreochromis aureusCoptodon zillii, and Tristramella) are found in the Sea of Galilee, where the author of the Gospel of Matthew recounts the event took place. These species have been the target of small-scale artisanal fisheries in the area for thousands of years.

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The common name “tilapia”‘ is based on the name of the cichlid genus Tilapia, which is itself a latinization of tlhapi, the Tswana word for “fish”. Scottish zoologist Andrew Smith named the genus in 1840.

Bottom Feeders

Is Tilapia a Bottom Feeder?

One fish that many people label as a bottom feeder is Tilapia—but that’s not strictly true. In the wild, Tilapia usually eat around the mid-level of the water, although they will go to the bottom for food if they can’t find suitable food anywhere else. When they can get it, they opt for a diet of algae and lake plants.

Farmed Tilapia, on the other hand, usually eat a carefully balanced plant-based diet, which may be supplemented with fish oils to give them extra Omega-3 fatty acids. Their food floats on the top of the water, so they come up to the surface to get it—no “bottom feeding” involved. Farms like Regal Springs raise their Tilapia in floating pens and feed them a floating plant-based food so they don’t have access to the lake floor.


As we already mentioned, many popular types of seafood are bottom feeders. From lobster to cod, these fish are tasty and healthy options for dinner, whether you’re finding them in the seafood section of your local grocery store or on the menu of your favorite restaurant. That’s because most bottom feeders aren’t just at the bottom of lakes and oceans—they’re at the bottom of the food chain as well. Their diet of algae and other detritus gives them plenty of Omega-3 fatty acids, which are good for human health. On the other hand, larger predatory fish end up with higher concentrations of pollutants and toxins, such as mercury.

When you’re looking at farmed fish, it doesn’t really matter if the fish is technically classified as a bottom feeder, as long as it is raised in a clean and healthy environment, and fed a balanced diet. To be sure you’re getting top quality farmed fish, look for certifications on the packaging from organizations like the Aquaculture Stewardship Council, the British Retail Council, Global Aquaculture Alliance/Best Aquaculture Practices and Ocean Wise.

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is tilapia a bottom feeder
is tilapia a bottom feeder

The Truth About Tilapia

Tilapia is a very popular choice for aquaculture. In fact, over 80% of the farmed fish consumed in the United States are Tilapia. And it’s an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are believed to help fight off depression, heart disease, cancer, and other major killers.

However, the major drawback or question you hear about this – is Tilapia a bottom feeder fish? No, that’s not entirely true. Yeah, Tilapia nest in the bottom by digging holes and feed mainly on the vegetation available to them. However, they eat from both mid to bottom levels of water and even from the surface.

Dirty fish

In this blog, we provided in-depth information regarding whether Tilapia is a “bottom feeder” or a mid-level feeder, what is bottom feeder fish, is Tilapia a dirty fish, why is Tilapia considered a garbage fish, is Tilapia fish healthy to eat, and which fish consider as a bottom feeder.

Profile of Tilapia Fish:

Tilapia is primarily a freshwater fish and native to Africa but now found all over the world. It’s one of the most farmed fish in the world. And the most popular kind of Tilapia is the Nile tilapia.

It’s an affordable and mild-flavored fish and one of the most commonly consumed types of seafood in the United States (4th most consumed fish). Many people love Tilapia because it is comparatively inexpensive and doesn’t taste very fishy.

The diet of tilapia fish consists of algae and water plants, stems, roots, and leaves. However, when there is no food source available, they will eat almost anything that digestible.

What is Bottom Feeder Fish?

Bottom feeder fish is the term used to refer to the largest group of fish on earth that feeds on or near the bottom of body water. These fish are also known as benthic, gulper, piscivorous, trachinoid, scavenger, or zooplanktivores. Bottom feeders are often scavengers that feed on dead flesh, algae, or other decaying material.

This is coming from the perspective of an American chef:

Tilapia is cheap. Also, it doesn’t taste like much. But most of the problem is that it’s cheap. It’s the fresh fish that the most inexpensive restaurants can afford to put on their menu, right there with catfish. It’s perceived as low class. At nicer restaurants, you want to put your ingredients on a pedestal, to justify the higher cost. When people go into a Captain D’s, they can get tilapia, so when they come to my place, I want to offer something nicer.

Why is it cheap? Well, for one thing, it’s intensively farmed. So is salmon, sure, but wild salmon still has a large enough market share to give the fish some cachet. Also, salmon has a prominent place in the traditional cuisine of Northern Europe and North America. So in the West it has a certain gastronomic validity that tilapia lacks. Still, it’s increasingly rare to see salmon at the best restaurants. Since it’s cheap enough for the lower-middle-of-the-road places to serve.

Different economic levels

Here is a rough breakdown of the various economic tiers of seafood, and the sort of restaurants that serves them. These lists are by no means complete, and there are certainly exceptions.

Tier 1: Ultra Premium (seen at top restaurants)

John Dory, Dover sole, Hawaiian opa, langoustines, live scallops, Mediterranean wild striped bass (loup de mer), bluefin tuna, wild turbot (common theme: flown in, often from far away)

Tier 2: Premium (seen at top restaurants in smaller towns, or second-tier restaurants in places like NYC or Chicago)

Alaskan Halibut, untreated yellowfin tuna, farmed loup de mer, Maine lobster, stone crab, Canadian raw oysters, dry pack sea scallops. And, in places near water, locally caught premium fish (here in South Carolina that means wreckfish, grouper, black sea bass, and swordfish)

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Gulf raw oysters

Tier 3: Upscale (seen at dedicated seafood restaurants and as specials in everyday restaurants)

Wild salmon, wild flounder, wild drum, mackerel, domestic shrimp, Chilean sea bass, snow crab, pompano, snapper, treated yellowfin tuna (gassed to prevent color loss), Gulf raw oysters.

Tier 4: Everyday (seen at mom & pop restaurants, bistros, places that cook real food but try to keep their prices low)

Frozen yellowfin tuna, shucked oysters, low-chemical imported shrimp, cod, farmed rainbow trout, fresh farmed salmon, octopus, farmed drum, frozen lobster tails.

is tilapia a bottom feeder
is tilapia a bottom feeder

Also, this is where ‘by-catch’ lives. By-catch is a term for non-commercially viable fish that wind up in the nets. Things like mullet, whiting, grunt (pictured), and bluefish, if you happen to be in South Carolina. When I was a higher-end chef, I actually liked featuring by-catch. Because some of it is amazing, but you can’t charge too much for it. Usually this stuff ends up on the ‘Specials’ black board at fry shacks. (Some things start out as by-catch, and then become commercially viable. Where I am, sheepshead and triggerfish are two such examples. One old couple where my wife works were SCANDALIZED that they were selling sheep head. And the old Charleston man complained that those were the fish they’d give to ‘the blacks’ at the end of the fishing trip. Oh, Charleston….)

Olive Garden

Tier 5: Low-end, or ‘garbage’ (some of these things aren’t garbage at all. It’s just that they are associated with the cheapest seafood options available in the market. And higher end restaurants accordingly don’t want to feature them. Seen at chain restaurants, bar-and-grills, fast food, and lower-end fry shacks. Some of these, like squid, occasionally get featured at higher-end places (Grant Achatz did a dish called Squid in Textures). But I’m still including them here, because the vast majority of squid that is sold in the US. It is on fried plates at places like Olive Garden.

Catfish, frozen farmed salmon, our buddy tilapia, squid, haddock, pollack, high-chemical-treated imported shrimp.

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