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Tilapia Farmer Growing Big Business In Franklin County

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FRANKLIN COUNTY, N.C. — Tilapia, one of the hottest meals around, is popping up on menus and stores everywhere.

A lot of the fish are raised in Franklin County. They're raised inside barns filled with massive tanks of recirculating water -- thousands of tilapia gently swimming in circles with the flow of the water.

"You're talking about a 22,000-gallon tank with 20,000 pounds of fish in it at harvest," said fish farmer Hill Matthews of Southern Farm Tilapia.

That's one reason for farming tilapia - they survive in high densities.

"It's considered a white fish," Matthews said. "It's a very mild-tasting, very flaky meat. It's not a real strong oily fishy taste.

"It's something that both people who don't like fish and do like fish can enjoy."

The business -- Southern Farm Tilapia -- has been growing for a few years now, gaining more experience with indoor fish farming.

Today, the business has a hatchery and two fish barns.

"We've come a long way," Matthews said. "We started out with just a hatchery, and kind of a nursery growing out in the same facility."

Matthews said he's had to do much of the learning on his own.

"So few people are doing it," he said. "It's hard to call your neighbor and ask him: 'How are your fish doing?'"

Matthews seems to have pretty well figured out the fish. His business is selling a half a million pounds a year.


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