Because of their large size, rapid growth, and palatability, a number of tilapiine cichlids are at the focus of major aquaculture efforts, specifically various species of Oreochromis, Sarotherodon, and Tilapia, collectively known colloquially as tilapias. Like other large fish, they are a good source of protein and a popular target for artisanal and commercial fisheries. Originally, the majority of such fisheries were in Africa, but accidental and deliberate introductions of tilapia into freshwater lakes in Asia have led to outdoor aquaculturing projects countries with a tropical climate such as Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, and Indonesia. In temperate zone localities, tilapiine farming operations require energy to warm the water to the tropical temperatures these fish require. One method involves warming the water using waste heat from factories and power stations.
Tilapiines are also among the easiest and most profitable fish to farm. This is due to their omnivorous diet, mode of reproduction (the fry do not pass through a planktonic phase), tolerance of high stocking density, and rapid growth. In some regions the fish can be put out in the rice fields when rice is planted, and will have grown to edible size (12–15 cm, 5–6 inches) when the rice is ready for harvest. One recent estimate for the FAO puts annual production of tilapia at about 1.5 million tonnes, a quantity comparable to the annual production of farmed salmon and trout. Unlike salmon, which rely on high-protein feeds based on fish or meat, commercially important tilapiine species eat a vegetable or cereal based diet. Tilapias raised in inland tanks or channels are considered safe for the environment, since their waste and disease should be contained and not spread to the wild.
Set against their value as food, tilapiines have acquired notoriety as being among the most serious invasive species in many subtropical and tropical parts of the world. For example Oreochromis aureus, Oreochromis mossambicus, Sarotherodon melanotheron melanotheron, Tilapia mariae, and Tilapia zilli have all become established in the southern United States, particularly in Florida and Texas.
Apart from the very few species found in the Levant, such as Sarotherodon galilaeus galilaeus, there are no tilapiine cichlids endemic to Asia. However, species originally from Africa have been widely introduced and have become economically important as food fish in many countries. China, the Philippines, Taiwan, Indonesia and Thailand are the leading suppliers and these countries altogether produced about 1.1 million metric tonnes of fish in 2001, constituting about 76% of the total aquaculture production of tilapia worldwide.
The Chinese name for the fish in Taiwan is "Wu-Kuo" (吳郭) and was created from the surnames of Wu Chen-hui (吳振輝) and Kuo Chi-chang (郭啟彰), who introduced the fish into Taiwan from Singapore. The Taiwan tilapia is a hybrid of Oreochromis mossambicus and Oreochromis niloticus niloticus. In mainland China, it is called Luofei fish (罗非鱼), named after the origin of this fish: the Nile and Africa (niLUO and FEIzhou in Chinese respectively).
Locally, tilapia are also known as Pla-Pla. Tilapiine cichlids have many culinary purposes, including fried, inihaw (cooked in charcoal), sinigang (a bouillabaisse which sometimes has tamarind, guava, calamansi or other natural ingredients to flavour it), paksiw (similar to sinigang only it consists of vinegar, garlic, pepper and ginger) and many more recipes.
On January 11, 2008, the Cagayan Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) stated that tilapia production grew and Cagayan Valley is now the Philippines’ tilapia capital. Production supply grew 37.25% since 2003, with 14,000 metric tons (MT) in 2007. The recent aquaculture congress found that the growth of tilapia production was due to government interventions: provision of fast-growing species, accreditation of private hatcheries to ensure supply of quality fingerlings, establishment of demonstration farms, providing free fingerlings to newly constructed fishponds, and the dissemination of tilapia to Nueva Vizcaya (in Diadi town). Former cycling champion Lupo Alava is a multi-awarded tilapia raiser in Bagabag, Nueva Vizcaya. Chairman Thompson Lantion of the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board, a retired two-star police general, has fishponds in La Torre, Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya. Also, Nueva Vizcaya Gov. Luisa Lloren Cuaresma also entered into similar aquaculture endeavors in addition to tilapia production.
Research published in July 2008, suggests the nutritional value of farm raised Tilapia may be compromised due to the amount of corn included in the feed. The corn contains short chain omega-6s that contribute to the buildup of these materials in the fish. "Ratios of long-chain omega-6 to long-chain omega-3, AA to EPA respectively, in tilapia averaged about 11:1, compared to much less than 1:1 (indicating more EPA than AA) in both salmon and trout." The report also observes that the 1.5 million tons of Tilapia were produced in the US in 2005, with 2.5 million tons projected by 2010. Wide spread publicity encouraging people to eat more fish has seen Tilapia being purchased by those with lower incomes who are trying to eat right. The lower amounts of Omega-3 and the higher ratios of Omega-6 compounds in US farmed Tilapia raise questions of the health benefits of consuming this fish.