Image

As you know, Jesus was a man of the people, walking the dirt roads, talking to the high and low in society.  He called for a divine tolerance among us.  He lived His vision and paid the price.  He knew the basics were at the core of all we do and all that makes life valuable.  Love was at the center of His sermons, though discipline was a close second.  He was also a plain man when it came to the physical essentials.  He was a carpenter, working with His hands to build utile objects.  He fed the masses on water, wine, bread and fish.  The fish associated with Jesus, and John the Baptist, and the ancient Egyptians, and the modern Israelis, and modern Orientals, and the smart plates of great chefs, is the tilapia.  E.B. White has written that the miracles of Jesus are smaller examples of the miracles of God.  For example, the multiplying of fishes goes on on a daily basis globally.  The growing of grain for bread is also a global miracle.  Healing the sick occurs also daily both through the miraculous mechanism of our bodies’ immune systems as well as through the God-given curiosity and ability to learn that man and woman possess.  Even the raising of the dead can be seen on a magnificent scale as the seasons turn from the dead of winter to the blossoming of spring and its awesome new shoots of growth.  And so, as Jesus did God’s work on a smaller more personal scale, mankind does God’s work on an even smaller scale and with much more effort than an avatar must exert.  We have to work hard for our miracles.  But they are there for our interaction.  And one miracle thriving and waiting for us to help it multiply is the tilapia.

This is a simple fish of Middle Eastern/ African origin, hardy and tolerant, with an uncanny loving nature to its young that makes it one of the greatest survival stories in the animal kingdom.  Even the name is humble; it means simply “fish” in one African language. The tilapia, while a fresh water fish, is salt tolerant, giving it a range of habitat much broader than its competitors.  The crime genre author, James Hall, wrote a Miami-noir mystery, Mean High Tide, based on a mad scientist who had developed a strain of tilapia that were salt-tolerant enough to thrive in the oceans.  Given the fish’s hardiness and the low mortality rate of its young, the introduction of such a fish into the open ocean would become an environmental nightmare on the scale of an act of international terrorism.  The book was, as another mentor in the field of science once told me, bad science but a great read.  However, reports have come out of California about an inland lake suffering salt water intrusion as a result of drought.  The sport fish in the lake have all but died off as the saline levels have risen to 25% above sea water.  The only fish thriving is tilapia.  If this were so, then we would have already turned the corner on tilapia’s potential to inhabit and invasively overwhelm the coasts of the world. However, the smart bet is that the tilapia have found a small inlet of fresh water in which to breed, and from there they swim out to thrive in the high salt water of the lake.

The fish is a carnivore, but not a cannibal.  And when meat is scarce vegetation does just fine.  In fact, with a stomach acid among the lowest and strongest in the animal kingdom, tilapia can digest almost anything and will flourish on algae and detritus.  The species tolerates some of the worst water quality conditions including high ammonia and nitrites, and very low oxygen levels.  Tilapia will burrow in the mud of a drained pond or lake, breathe oxygen from the wet earth, and come out swimmingly with the next rain that puts water back into the basin. In many African villages, tilapia thrive in small ponds over which chicken and hog pens are perched so that the animal feces falls to the fish who consume both it and the algae that blooms from the rich fertilizer. In the Middle East, tilapia have been raised in raw sewage.  In the Orient, in fact, tilapia are transported live out of water, surrounded only by wet hay which provides them with an environment of 100% humidity in which they can survive for more than an hour.  Plenty of time to get to a local market’s live tanks on a hand-pulled cart. As a cultured food source, tilapia have by far the highest conversion rate of feed to meat among cattle, pigs or poultry.  Where cows must consume 14 pounds of grass or feed to add one pound of meat to their bodies, tilapia in ideal culture conditions can grow at just over a 1:1 ratio.  That is the kind of growth that will provide a hungry world its protein needs while not destroying the environment in a ruthless harvesting of foodstuffs and acreage to feed live stock. And that is to a great extent exactly what has been happening in recent years.  Tilapia harvest worldwide from farms is more than one million metric tons annually, placing them second only to carp as the most widely raised freshwater fish globally. In America, it is the second highest imported seafood behind shrimp. Given that 90% of the world’s large game fish including tuna have been gobbled up by humanity, the low maintenance fish at the bottom of the food chain will prove to be a Godsend of protein until the world either addresses its population bomb’s burning fuse or collapses from pandemic, war or the unforeseen.

Moreover, just as Jesus turned water to wine, His fish turn their culture water to liquid gold in the form of nutrient-rich irrigant for crop plants.  The nitrogen in farm fish water is ideal for plant growth, and the nutrients are at their most ingestible form pre-diluted in water.  Even the detritus removed from the fish system water is miraculous; dried out it makes for the perfect top soil, odorless, powdery and a natural fertilizer, growing leafy crops two to three times faster than conventional farming methods, essentially eliminating the need for the use of pesticides as the plants mature so quickly that insects do not have time to do more than nibble. I do not begrudge an occasional nibble.  A perfect fruit or leaf is generally only a symptom of GMO and/or pesticide application. My liver and kidneys have been through enough.

Image

(Small, sweet Hawaiian bananas, above, grown in tilapia detritus water and nasturtium edible flowers, below, grown in soil enriched with detritus and leafy vegetables kale, collard greens, Brussel sprouts and lettuce, below below, grown in soil enriched with tilapia detritus.)

Image

Image

Image

In short, the tilapia, when farmed with disciplined care, can be the keystone of a self-sustaining, waste-free, environmentally beneficial farm lush with harvest.  The fish is nothing short of miraculous.

Advertisements