Among the promising aquaculture technologies presented in the Farming the Sea session at GLIMPSE 2020, was aquaponics – a system that integrates hydroponic plant production with recirculating fish culture systems. Charlie Shultz from Kentucky State University discussed the explosion of interest in aquaponics and what that technology holds for the future.
Over the past decade much of the aquaponics movement has been focused on subsistence-level systems. In the U.S. there are an estimated 1,000 – 1,500 backyard systems, in addition to roughly 1,000 school-based systems. These numbers are increasing, as are the number of university research programs, short courses, and publications dedicated to the topic.
Aquaponics offers huge potential for profit increases through shared operation and infrastructure costs and the recycling of fish waste and water. Fish waste products provide most of the nutrients required by plants, which in turn filter water for reuse in fish tanks. Popular species that have been cultured using aquaponics include tilapia, Koi carp, and barramundi.
With escalating worldwide demands on finite nutrient and water supplies, aquaponics provides a sustainable, high productivity solution (~ 200,000 lb/acre of annual production in the tropics or in controlled-environment systems in temperate regions). Because aquaponics is amenable to urban environments its application on a large scale could reduce pressure on croplands, while extending water use and reducing discharges to the environment.
Much remains to be done ... No large-scale commercial models exist and getting started can be capital intensive. Aquaponics businesses must be successful at marketing two distinctly different products. Research is needed to address food safety concerns and to overcome isolated technological hurdles. Unfortunately, qualified experts and trained personnel are in short supply. Let’s invest the energy needed to benefit from this game-changing opportunity! The time is now!