DLNR Presented with Monstrous Tilapia Fish

November 16, 2019, 1:05 PM HST (Updated November 16, 2019, 4:16 PM)
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A monstrous Tilapia brought to DLNR by a local man. Photo: DLNR.

CORRECTION: Please note the previous version of this article stated the fish was caught in the Wailoa River system. This information was incorrect. The fish was actually retrieved from a private pond on Hawai‘i Island. We apologize for the misprint. 

A monstrous, 16-pound Nile tilapia was brought by a local man to the DLNR this week, raising already mounting concerns about the invasive fish’s impact on local ecosystems.

DLNR Aquatic Biologist Troy Sakihara said it’s the biggest Nile tilapia he’s ever seen. The massive fish was retrieved from a private pond.

“I was amazed, as a fisherman myself, but also a little freaked out by how big these fish can actually get,” said Brian Neilson, administrator of the DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR). “Especially when you think about how devastating tilapia can be to some of our native organisms, a two-foot long, 16-pound fish can become a major predator. It’s a little scary.”

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The fish is currently on ice, serving as a dramatic reminder of how invasive species can thrive and potentially harm Hawai‘i’s endemic species and fragile ecosystem.

Nile tilapia was permitted for fish farming operations two years ago. Their flourishing numbers have raised concerns over impacts on the local fishery in the Wailoa River system, particularly for native mullet populations, or ‘ama‘ama.

Following their incursion into the streams in Hilo and another invasion of black-chin tilapia on Kaua‘i’s north shore, biologists expressed alarm for the destructive potential of tilapia on Hawai‘i’s fragile ecosystems.

“It’s great to see the public awareness and support and people bringing in tilapia, as they’re hearing the important message that invasive species don’t need to be in our waterways,” Nielson said. “You look at the size of the fish that was recently brought in and it’s not a stretch to imagine how they can gobble up all the food for native species and they’re actually eating fish like ‘ama‘ama or ‘o‘opu.”

Sakihara is working to address the growing tilapia invasion in Hawai‘i waterways. With support from DAR leadership, he is exploring the possibility of a community fishing tournament in early 2020. In the meantime, DAR is encouraging local anglers to hook their lines and catch as many tilapia as they want.

Video: DLNR

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