Blackchin Tilapia

Blackchin Tilapia (Sarotherodon melanotheron)

blackchin tilapia in a persons hand

Photo courtesy of J. Tengeres, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service


  • Usually have black spots on chin or throat (Campbell 1987)
  • Irregular vertical bars (Trewavas 1983)
  • Gold spot near gills in males (Trewavas 1983)


  • High salinity tolerance (Randall 1987) and prefers brackish water (Trewavas 1983)
  • Found in streams, estuaries and wetlands (Englund 2005)

Impacts & Concern:

  • Can greatly reduce aquatic vegetation present (Courtenay 1974) and therefore negatively impact native Hawaiian birds (McGuire 2006)
  • May overcrowd (Courtenay 1974) or act aggressive towards native fish (Faunce and Paperno 1999)
blackchin tilapia

Photo courtesy of U.S. Geological Survey

  • Could serve as a vector of disease: blackchin tilapia is impacted by an unknown disease sometimes with no symptoms (Mauel et al. 2003) as well as the bacterium Francisella noatunensis subsp. Orientalis (Yamasaki et al. 2022)


  • Imported by Bureau of Commercial Fisheries in 1962 onto Sand Island where it was studied as potential tuna bait and likely escaped (Randall 1987)
  • After initial escape, blackchin tilapia spread through freshwater and estuary habitats (Szyper et al. 2000)
map of blackchin tilapia distribution in the main Hawaiian islands

Reported distribution of Sarotherodon Melanotheron in the Main Hawaiian Islands

Distribution in Hawaii:

  • Kauai: Anahola Stream, Puali Stream (Yamasaki 2022)
  • Oʻahu: Kahuku Pond, Kuliouou Steam, Kawaihāpai Reservoir (Yamasaki 2022), Wahiawa Lake, Nuʻuana Reservoir (Wu and Yang 2012)
  • Molokai: Not documented
  • Lanai: Not documented
  • Maui: Not documented
  • Big Island: Not documented

Related AIS Team Management Projects:

  • 2019 Special Activity Permit allowed DAR officials and local fishermen to net about 300 fish in Nu‘alolo Bay, Kaua‘i
  • DAR investigated a large die-off of tilapia in the ‘Anahulu River near Hale‘iwa, O‘ahu after reports from kayak/SUP rental companies
  • Monitoring for spread and disease outbreaks continues


  • Prohibited for import, not currently listed under HDOA import rules (§4-71-6.5)


  • Campbell, D. (1987). A review of the culture of Sarotherodon melanotheron in West Africa. UNDP-FAO-NIOMR. 20 p.
  • Courtenay W.R., Sahlman H. F., Miley W. M., Herrema D. J. Exotic fishes in fresh and brackish waters of Florida. (1974). Biological Conservation, 6(4), 292-302.
  • Englund, R.A. (2005). Threats to native aquatic insect biodiversity in Hawaiʻi and the Pacific, and challenges in their conservation. [Doctoral dissertation, University of Hawaiʻi]. University of Hawaiʻi Manoa ScholarSpace.
  • Faunce, C.H. & Paperno R. (1999). Tilapia-dominated fish assemblages within an impounded mangrove ecosystem in east-central Florida. Wetlands, 19(1), 126-138.
  • Mauel, M., Miller, D., Frazier, K., Liggett, A., & Styer, L., Montgomery-Brock, D., & Brock, J. (2003). Characterization of a piscirickettsiosis-like disease in Hawaiian tilapia. Diseases of aquatic organisms, 53, 249-55. 10.3354/dao053249
  • McGuire, C. (2006). Effects of introduced fish on aquatic insect abundance: A case study of Hamakua marsh, Oahu Hawaiʻi. [Master dissertation, University of Hawaiʻi]. University of Hawaiʻi Manoa ScholarSpace.
  • Randall, J. E. (1987). Introductions of marine fishes to the Hawaiian Islands. Bulletin of Marine Science, 41(2), 490-502.
  • Szyper, J.P., Hopkins, K.D., Malchow, W., & Okamura, W. Y. (2000). History and Prospects of Tilapia Stocks in Hawaii, U.S.A. In Tilapia Culture in the 21st Century–Proceedings from the Fifth International Symposium on Tilapia Aquaculture, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
  • Trewavas, E. (1983). Tilapiine Fishes of the genera Sarotherodon, Oreochromis, and Danakilia. The Dorset Press.
  • Yamasaki L.S., Iwai T.,Klinger-Bowen R. C., Weese D.A., Fowler C.E., Yacoub J.L., & Wong M.A. (2022). Identification of Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus) and its hybrids in natural environments in Hawaii. Aquaculture, 550, e737805.