The trainer, John Eric Basco – a Filipino tilapia expert from Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) – conducted the training at Te Raurau Kaingavai to teach others how to farm, harvest and prepare the fish.
He said one reason many people in the Cooks do not eat tilapia is there are many other types of fish that are readily available.
While the Philippines also has access to many other kinds of fish, Basco said tilapia is popular there because it is easier to get from the inland fisheries than to fish in the ocean.
The aquaponics venture in Titikaveka, which launched last year, is an apparatus that resembles a natural ecosystem.
Fish swimming in a tank produce waste that injects nitrates into the water, which is pumped with a mesh filter. That water is then used to irrigate and fertilise plants, removing the need for soil.
By-products are filtered out by the plants as vital nutrients – root systems and microbes and worms remove nitrates, which they ingest as food. The cleansed, filtered and aerated water is re-circulated back into the fish tank.
The result is a system that uses a small fraction of the water consumed by traditional agriculture – there is no need to discard or drain water circulating throughout the system, and there is no need for chemical fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides, insecticides and fungicides.
The project is situated in the context of a sustainable garden and nursery – a place for people to learn about sustainable green technologies and the way the ecosystem works.
After learning how to run the system and harvest the fish, participants helped prepare a feast, including tilapia fish stuffed with lemon grass, onion, tomato, garlic, ginger and olive oil. Co-founder of Te Raurau Kiangavai Barbara Thomson also prepared salad using produce from the aquaponics garden.
Fisheries officer Richard Story said it was valuable to learn how to cook the fish as well as run the fish farm.
“A lot of locals don’t eat tilapia fish, maybe because they don’t know how to prepare it properly.”
William Paerau is one of the younger participants who took part in the training, and plans to have his own fish farm in the future.
“One day I’ll do my own, and make a business out of it. I’ll start small and build it up,” he said.
Paerau said he learned a lot from the training, including how to run the fish farm, and how to harvest and prepare the fish.
“I was surprised you can feed the fish chicken food – and I’d never heard of growing plants in rocks,” he said.
Jo Sendito, a friend of Basco, also participated in the training and said she enjoyed the practical element of the workshop.
“It’s much better to come and learn by doing it.”
Co-founder of Te Raurau Kaingavai Lynnsay Rongokea said the training is part of the centre meeting its social responsibilities by passing on the skills of aquaponics to the community.
This is the first training workshop to be held at the centre, with another set to take place in September.
The training was organised by the Ministry of Marine Resources.