FISHING is as old as history. From the Holy Bible comes this information: "As Jesus walked by Lake Galilee, he saw two brothers who were fishermen, Simon (called Peter) and his brother Andrew, catching fish in the lake with a net" (Matthew 4:18).

If you are wondering what of kind of fish the two brothers were catching, it was tilapia. Although the passage does name it, it was the same fish with a shekel coin in its mouth that Peter in the same lake. From the said event, the moniker "St. Peter's fish" evolved.

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After carps and salmonids, tilapia is now the third most important fish around the world. Touted to be the single most important aquaculture product, tilapia has been called as the "food fish of the 21st century" by Dr. Kevin Fitzsimmons, president of the World Aquaculture Society.

There are several species of tilapia and they inhabit a variety of fresh and, less commonly, brackish water habitats from shallow streams and ponds through to rivers, lakes, and estuaries. True tilapias are native only to Africa and the Middle East. However, introduced species of tilapias are established in many environments, including Southeast Asia.

When tilapia, particularly Mozambique tilapia, was introduced in the Philippines in 1950, the fish was not well-accepted by Filipino consumers. Inland fishermen also rejected the fish "because of the lack of appropriate culture techniques," to quote the words of fishery expert Dr. Rafael D. Guerrero III.

The coming of the Nile tilapia in the 1970s improved the acceptance of tilapia in the country because of its lighter color and faster growth compared to the Mozambique tilapia. It earned the moniker "aquatic chicken" because it has good attributes that make it suitable for aquaculture. "It matures early, breeds readily and is a hardy fish," Dr. Guerrero said.

After bangus, tilapia is now the second most important fish in the Philippines. Tilapia fish pens are a common sight in almost all the major rivers and lakes in the country, including Laguna de Bay, Taal Lake, and Lake Sebu. It is very popular among Filipinos who cooked the fish in different ways, including fried, grilled, sinigang (a sour soup using tamarind, santol, guava or calamansi as a base) and paksiw (similar to sinigang only it uses vinegar).

Today, tilapia is one of the most preferred-fish by Filipinos. After all, tilapia is extremely versatile; its lean white meat has a delicate flavor that is very mildly sweet. Both Americans and Europeans are also fond of tilapia since they consider it as "white meat," a health food low in cholesterol and fat. Also, chefs have a preference for tilapia's firm meat.

What's in a tilapia? Nutritionists claim that 100 grams of tilapia provides approximately 93 calories, with one gram of fat (0.5 grams saturated), 55 milligrams cholesterol, 37 grams sodium, 0.5 milligram iron, 19.5 grams protein, and 90 milligrams Omega-3 fatty acids.

There's more to tilapia than just food. In the United States, stocks tilapia in the canals that serve as the drinking water sources for the cities of Phoenix, Mesa, and others. The fish reportedly help purify the water by consuming vegetation and detritus, greatly reducing purification costs.

Tilapia also serves as a natural, biological control for most aquatic plant problems. Tilapia consumes floating aquatic plants, such as duckweed watermeal, the most "undesirable" submerged plants, and most forms of algae.

In Thailand, tilapia is becoming the plant control method of choice in reducing, if not eliminating, the use of toxic chemicals and heavy metal-based algaecides. In Kenya, tilapia helps control malaria-causing mosquitoes. Tilapia consumes mosquito larvae, which reduces the numbers of adult females, the disease's vector.