If you are not familiar with this subject, you may wish to check out this quick overview of aquaponics first. To sum up quickly, aquaponics is the combination of two pre-existing areas of food production. These are aquaculture (the raising of aquatic animals such as fish), and hydroponics (the growing of plants in water).
For most newcomers to aquaponics, the aquaculture is probably the more intimidating of the two. That’s because most people come to aquaponics from a background of hydroponics, or at least of gardening. After all, most people are at least somewhat familiar with gardening and the growing of vegetables. Very few of us have any knowledge of or experience with the raising of fish for food.
There are a few things to consider when selecting your aquaponics fish. Consider the two-fold role of fish in such a system. First, they provide nutrients that are used in growing plants. Second, they can be harvested for food. This second purpose is optional, however.
Most aquaponics systems use a fresh-water system, and so freshwater fish are the most commonly raised type of aquatic life. Some people have used crayfish and prawns, too, though.
If you have no desire to harvest fish, that’s fine. Perhaps you are a vegetarian. Or perhaps you just don’t like the idea of killing animals yourself, or of eating an animal you raised. Don’t worry. You don’t have to do that in an aquaponics system if you don’t want to. In fact, it is fairly common for people to choose not to.
Koi is the most commonly used non-edible fish right now. They are an extremely popular fish. Koi ponds have sprung up all over the place in people’s yards and at office buildings, so there are a lot of shops that provide knowledge and resources for raising them.
Koi are hardy, attractive and they are easy to raise. They are part of the carp family of fish. You will find that they come in many colors and patterns, but all of them are selected for their ornamental value.
Closely related to Koi are goldfish, another popular inedible aquaponics fish. They are also a type of carp that were originally bred in Asia for ornamental purposes. Goldfish are slightly smaller than Koi, on average. However, there is more variance of size and shape among goldfish.
Although these are the two most popular choices of inedible fish, some people have used angel fish and even guppies in aquaponics.
Your choice of inedible fish should come down to just a few things:
- Which fish you enjoy watching swim
- Which kinds of fish food are easiest/cheapest to come by
Although it is certainly fine to use non-edible fish in your aquaponics system, you are really only getting half of the benefit if you do so. The fish are feeding your plants, but you are missing out on the opportunity to feed yourself or others too, at least in a direct way.
What’s more, there is a much greater variety of edible fish that are used in aquaculture and aquaponics. Your choice should depend on two main things: Which kind of fish you prefer to grow and eat, and what types of fish food are most readily available to you.
Tilapia is the most popular fish for aquaponics right now. This is a great, healthy fish. Many fitness and weight loss programs include tilapia fish as a primary staple of their diets. They are used heavily in both home and commercial systems.
Tilapia have been an historically important fish in Africa for millennia. They were grown in Biblical times, and it is believed they were one of the main fish of the Sea of Galilee, where much of the New Testament accounts took place.
Although quite new to the ‘West’, tilapia use and importance has exploded in North America just in the last 30 years, due to their utilization in aquaculture. In fact, Americans ate 475 million pounds of tilapia in 2010, four times the amount consumed ten years earlier.
It is considered the perfect “factory fish”, according to a New York Times article. In the food trade it is referred to as the “aquatic chicken”. It breeds easily and has a bland taste that works well in many recipes. It can also be raised on a diet similar to that of chicken feed.
If Tilapia doesn’t strike your fancy, there are plenty of other options. Some of the more common ones are:
- Silver Perch
- Tandanus catfish
- Jade Perch
- Murray cod
People are always experimenting with other kinds of fish, too. Some that have been tried more recently with success are crappie, brim, bass, carp and trout.
If you try out a fish and later decide that you don’t like it, there’s no rule that says you can’t switch to something else. Experiment for a while until you find something you love.
Aquaponics Fish Production
How much fish can you expect to produce? A small system, taking up a space of about 12’ x 20’, can easily produce 110 lbs of fish per year. That is a lot of fish! This is assuming you have a system that can work 12 months of the year.
If your system is outside and unprotected it would not generate as much, obviously. However, by keeping it in a greenhouse, or in a garage or basement, you can control the environment and produce year-round fresh fish.
There is some labor involved. Expect to spend about a half hour per day, at least at first. Once you get used to growing fish and you come up with some routines, you should be able to cut that time down pretty dramatically.
Aquaponics is a great way to grow lots of food quickly while using only a small amount of space. The benefits to your health and your income, as well as the rewarding feeling of growing your own food, make aquaponics a fantastic activity for anyone.