Tilapia Fingerlings Advice and Recommendations
I'm debating with myself about whether or not to add my own recommendations to this site. On one hand, I have learned quite a bit from setting up my own aquaponics system in addition to all of the research that I've done for this site; and on the other hand, I really don't want my efforts to look like a spam tool for the companies that I've come to trust. After all, I started this site to expose the dealers who use lies to sell tilapia fingerlings, not to make recommendations. I know that I've learned a lot on this journey, so maybe it would be kind to share a bit of it with you. Ahh, decisions decisions. Let me think about it more. At least I'll have this page ready if I decide to go down that road. In the meantime, here are some general recommendations that I can make which don't promote anyone in particular.
Don't waste your time in forums
Forums are nothing more than a collection of egos and avatars. Every post starts with someone asking a question. Within a short time, a few people with nothing better to do, provide their own feedback. After the first round of opinions is expressed, the biggest of these egos return to tell the other repliers how stupid they are. If the postings stay on track, which they rarely do, the best answer will go to the biggest ego, who has the greatest stamina for the argument. Instead, find a mentor who is willing to help you, and doesn't restrict you to Email.
Don't buy from anyone who requires live return for a refund
Shipping live tilapia fingerlings is difficult for the professionals, and completely impossible for you. Companies that require that you return their fish for a refund make it seem like a no-brainer. They want you to feel like your purchase is risk-free. The truth is, they are trying to screw you. Remember, none of them are paying for the return box, or the poly bag, or the pure oxygen required to return their tilapia fingerlings safely; this is left up to you. But lets say that you take the tilapia fingerlings to a pet store, and pay them to prepare their fish for return. Are you prepared to pay for the overnight shipping? The return shipping will cost you a lot of money and you won't be reimbursed. In addition, any refund that they give you will not include the shipping charges that you originally paid to get their tilapia fingerlings in the first place. This is particularly true of eBay sellers, who aren't required to refund shipping charges.
In the unlikely event that you manage to return their tilapia fingerlings to them alive, your refund will be for the fish only. You will lose their shipping charges, plus whatever you paid to ship them back. At best, you're going to lose $80 or more for the lesson in shipping tilapia fingerlings. If you bought them from an eBay seller, then you already agreed to eBays terms and conditions; which states that you agree to pay shipping and handling charges, even if you return the merchandise, unless the seller clearly states in his listing that these charges will be refunded. If you try to fight it at the credit card level, you will be blacklisted from eBay.
The solution to this is to only buy tilapia fingerlings from companies that offer full refunds, including the shipping and handling charges, without requiring you to return the fish.
Don't buy from anyone who requires you to cut their fish in half for a refund
Many companies require that you submit photos of your tilapia fingerlings cut in half before they give you a refund or replacement. Are they calling you a liar? In some cases yes, but it's more likely that they need proof of death for their wholesaler. Most of the people selling tilapia fingerlings on the Internet aren't even hatcheries, they are re-sellers. They buy fingerlings at a discount from an actual hatchery, then re-sell them online for a premium. Online sites like Tilapia Depot, Urban Farming Guys, Allied Aqua, Tilapia Fingerlings (.com), are all examples of re-sellers, some of whom present themselves as hatcheries. By making you cut their tilapia fingerlings in half, and then submitting a photo as proof, they are securing their refund not yours.
I have it on good authority that tilapia fingerlings cost less than a penny each to raise, if you only consider the monetary investment. The reason that tilapia fingerlings cost anything at all has to do with the amount of labor that goes into the process; from brood stock management to hatching, and from care and maintenance to sorting. Actual hatcheries only charge their commercial aquaculture clients for the services they provide, they don't charge on a per-fingerling basis. But re-sellers are not tilapia farmers, they are profiteers. Since re-sellers are only interested in acquiring tilapia fingerlings to sell online, and aren't interested in any hatchery services, a wholesale price per fingerling must be charged.
If you buy tilapia fingerlings from an actual hatchery, chances are you will be afforded a no-quesitons-asked replacement or refund policy. This is because hatcheries raise so many tilapia fingerlings, that the loss represented by your order is a drop in the bucket.
Don't buy tilapia fingerlings from re-sellers
Tilapia hatcheries keep the best fingerlings for their own customers. It's what they are paid to do. The remaining fish are junk by comparison. There remaining tilapia fingerlings are used in-house, as food for other fish such as bass, or sold to the public as feeder fish. The situation is no different than the stores that sell live crickets and gold fish to their customers with carnivorous pets. The tilapia hatchery doesn't know, or really even care for that matter, what their unwanted fingerlings will be used for. Unfortunately, this is the primary source of fingerlings for nearly every tilapia re-seller.
Tilapia re-sellers do not give a rat's ass about your success, nor do they give a damn about telling the truth. Their only goal is to get your money, and some of them have pretty fancy looking websites to support their bullshit. If it seems like I really hate re-sellers, you are correct, but I'm not without my reasons. As I wrote elsewhere on this site, my first experience, and consequently the first person who sold me a pack of lies, was a re-seller. So screw them all, but for your benefit, I'll get off of my soapbox now.
The most visible re-sellers of tilapia fingerlings are Tilapia Fingerlings (.com), Tilapia Depot (.com), The Urban Farming Guys (.com), and Fish Kis (.com), but there are dozens of others. I would have included Allied Aqua (.com), a two-year-old website owned by an insurance salesman, but at least he has the balls to openly state that his tilapia fingerlings are provided by another company. Of course he also owns the other company, but even still, at least he's trying to be honest while he pretends to be two different people. Kudos to you Kellen... or is it Chris...
Only buy tilapia fingerlings from actual hatcheries. You can tell actual hatcheries from re-sellers because tilapia hatcheries offer hatchery services that go beyond simply having tilapia fingerlings for sale.
Don't buy tilapia fingerlings on eBay or Amazon
Amazon and eBay are the lands of the accidental breeders when it comes to tilapia Fingerlings. One source of tilapia farming information who I respect, introduced me to the term "accidental breeder". These are people with aquaponic systems who wake up one morning to discover an IBC tote filled with baby tilapia fry. Many of these aquaponic growers are also do-it-yourselfers, so they aren't shy about trying to make a little money with their new-found fish.
At first, this may seem like no big deal, until you think about it. Where did they buy their original fish? From a re-seller? Were their fish really a pure strain? Or did they buy them from a re-seller who lied to them. Are they going to be able to offer help if your fish get sick? Or offer advice that fits your situation? Or offer any support at all?
Buying tilapia fingerlings on eBay or Amazon is even worse than buying from tilapia re-sellers. Even if they are as honest as the day is long, their knowledge is based on what they remember of what they were told, and that may have been incorrect to begin with.
Don't buy according to price alone
The whole reason why hatcheries pick out the best tilapia fingerlings, and discard the rest, is because they are only concerned with the fastest growing fish. Commercial tilapia farms can't be competitive if their fish don't grow as fast as possible. The difference between a fast and a slow growing tilapia getting to market size can mean months. Every pound of fish costs a certain amount to raise, and the longer that it takes, the more that it costs. A slow growing tilapia can cost three times as much as a fast growing tilapia to get to one pound..
Shopping by price alone will only ensure that you pay more to raise the fish to an edible size. That said, paying the highest price has nothing to do with the over-all cost of your fully grown tilapia. Your only real option is to educate yourself. Only buy from actual tilapia hatcheries that answer their phone, or return your call within a reasonable time. And by all means, do call them. It's easy to sell handfuls of garbage anonymously or via email. Look carefully at their websites. Are they informative? Do they endeavor to educate as well as support? Or are they just a bunch of places to spend money.
Don't buy small orders of tilapia fry
Tilapia fry are very tiny pre-fingerlings. They are normally sold in sizes between ¼ to just under 1 inch long. Generally speaking, anything over an inch is a fingerling, anything under an inch is a fry. If you buy a small order of tilapia fry, say 100 or less from a hatchery, about 70 percent will be fish that they would have discarded. The hatchery cannot select the fastest growing tilapia fingerlings until after largest have reached one inch. By buying them before they can be sorted, you are taking the good with the bad. Unless you are getting a significant discount on fry, paying for 100, and only getting 30 good ones, might not be worth it.
Buying tilapia fry from a re-seller is a complete disaster. Think about it. They already have the hatchery discards to begin with. Which means that a certain percentage of their fish are still under one inch. But these are not just fry, they are the slowest growing runts! Their sibling fish are already on the farm pushing two and a half inches. There is zero chance than any of these are going to grow to a useable size. Granted, some of them may have actual fry with all the fast and slow growers included, but how will you know? Do you really think that they are going to tell the truth and lose a sale?
The only reason that you would buy tilapia fry is because you really only want the top 30% and the price is worth your time to sort them out.