What Plants And Fish Grow In These Systems?
The list of foods you can produce in recirculating farms is long, and growing! Systems can be designed for specific varieties of vegetables, herbs, fruit, flowers and fish, using shallow or deep water grow beds, vertical towers and other creative options. The wide range of plants that can be grown can help meet demands of local markets. In commercial systems, higher value plants and fish with shorter growth cycles are often chosen to maximize profits.
In hydroponic farms you can grow much of what you can in a traditional soil-based farm, including:
- Herbs like basil, cilantro and mint
- Vegetables like bell peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes
- Greens like romaine lettuce, rainbow chard and spinach
- Flowers like cosmos, marigolds and zinnias
- Fruits like strawberries and melons
Recirculating Fish Farms
In recirculating fish farms, you can raise many types of fish that we eat including tilapia, trout and catfish, crustaceans like crabs and shrimp, and ornamental fish like koi and goldfish.
Aquaponic farming offers the best of both worlds, with the potential to grow both plants and fish.
Why Better Fish Farming?
Americans ate almost 5 million pounds of seafood in 2009*, most of which was salmon, tuna and shrimp. US fisheries are generally well managed, but over 90 percent of the fish we eat is imported and half of this is farmed.
Farmed seafood presents a challenge – and an opportunity.
*the last year data was available
Overtaxed Wild Fisheries
Our wild fisheries depend on a healthy system of oceans, rivers and streams to survive. Many fisheries have been depleted due to loss of habitat, poor management and pollution, among other challenges. Unfortunately, 90 percent of the world’s fisheries are now fully exploited, over-exploited or have collapsed.
Fish Farming Facts: Open Water Aquafarming Problems
Farm-raised fish can be a viable solution to increasing our domestic seafood supply, and the types of fish raised and the methods for raising them span a wide range. Unfortunately, global experience with open water fin fish production, especially salmon farms, has been troubled. Problems include:
- Millions of farmed fish escaping into the wild;
- Changes in marine wildlife behavior near farms;
- Financial problems, with farms closing or declaring bankruptcy, despite millions in grants and other assistance; and
- Conflicts with fishermen over flooding the market with too much fish and environmental disruptions.
Many fish raised in ocean farms are carnivorous, so their fish feed often includes small wild fish taken from the sea. These fish are a primary food source for marine wildlife – dolphins, birds and larger fish – and are also critical in the diets of many coastal communities worldwide. Over a billion tons of important wild fish are harvested annually to feed captive fish.
The good news is, we already know how to raise sustainable fish.
A Solution: Sustainable Aquaculture
Recirculating fish farms and aquaponic farms (growing plants and fish in an interrelated system) can help provide seafood in a way that is healthy for us and our planet. Because these farms are mostly self-contained, it’s harder for parasites and other pollutants to get in or for fish to escape into the wild. Experts are working to improve farmed fish feed options – moving away from using wild fish and toward alternate healthy and sustainable diets. Feeding fish what they would eat normally in the wild, like insects, algae and small farmed fish to feed larger fish, are good sustainable alternatives.
Because these systems do not need to be located on or near natural water bodies, they can be built virtually anywhere, including land-locked communities where fresh fish is scarce, and in coastal towns where they can grow a wide range of seafood items that don’t compete with local fishermen. Recirculating farm-raised fish can actually supplement our existing seafood supply rather than conflict with it.
Recirculating Fish Farms: Good for the Environment
Recirculating Fish Farms: Good for Communities
In the face of disaster, a community’s ability to rebound is essential to its survival. To be resilient, communities must be able to withstand, respond to and recover from mega-storms and other disasters.
Recirculating farms aid in resilience because they help revitalize communities both physically and economically. Unused or abandoned areas, including vacant lots, old warehouses and rooftops can be transformed into vibrant green spaces. Even paved lots and industrial areas with soil that’s otherwise unfit for growing food can become safe, productive farming spaces by using raised beds, towers or other versatile designs.
In terms of resilience, recirculating farms offer many benefits.
Recirculating Farms Aid in Disaster Recovery and Address Climate Change
Recirculating farms have low resource requirements, so they are a means to continue food production without significantly furthering climate change, and their designs make them less vulnerable to variable weather conditions like heat, droughts and flooding. In addition, because they can provide local food, quickly, they aid in community recovery after a disaster.
Recirculating Fish Farms Increase Production and Security of Locally Grown Food
Many farmers sell locally and directly to consumers, restaurants and other markets. Money spent on food produced within the community tends to stay in the community, building up and supporting other businesses. In locations where there is a lack of healthy, fresh food, recirculating farms can be a local source.
Recirculating Fish Farms Provide Job and Skills Building
Recirculating farms present communities with opportunities for sustainable development and growth. Farms can be created with a goal of teaching leadership and job skills in areas where opportunities can be scarce.
Recirculating Fish Farms Provide Gathering Spaces
Recirculating farms can strengthen communities. They can be established as places for community interaction and exchanges and provide space for socializing and recreating outdoors – all of which are often lacking in urban areas.
Meet the Recirculating Farms Coalition
Better Fish Farming Faqs
When you buy fish from a recirculating farm you are supporting a farm that is eco-efficient – one that minimizes the use of water, electricity and land. Recirculating farms also minimize or don’t use pesticides, herbicides and antibiotics; their innovative designs allow them to have a much lighter impact on the environment.
“Farmed” fish has so many meanings, and most of us have heard about big problems with open water aquaculture farms, like fish escapes, spread of diseases and water pollution, but recirculating farms don’t create these problems.
Of course! The design of these farms helps keep disease and pests out, making it possible to use little or no chemicals like pesticides and antibiotics, so the fish have fewer contaminants.
Wild-caught is a great option as long as you make sustainable fish choices. Recirculating farms can be a complement to sustainable wild-caught fish because the systems are relatively easy to establish and maintain, they can be water- and energy-efficient, and they don’t need toxic chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
Not all fish farms are the same – aquaponic farms are special because they combine hydroponic farming (growing plants in nutrient rich water) with fish farming (raising fish in tanks on land). The natural products fish create by breathing, eating and growing provide nutrients for the plants. The plants then absorb those products, making cleaner water available for the fish to reuse.
Ornamental fish like koi and goldfish and also the fish we eat like tilapia, trout, catfish and perch can be grown. Some people run shellfish and shrimp farms and even ocean fin fish, like flounder, but these types of farms can be more difficult because maintaining a saltwater system requires more care and filtration.
A wide range of products can be grown including greens, herbs, some fruits and vegetables and flowers. Some grow better than others.
While many recirculating farms meet or beat USDA organic standards, most are not certified because it is an expensive and time-consuming process and there are no specific standards for recirculating farms right now (although some farms have been certified). Your best bet is to get to know your farmer and how their food is produced.
What to feed the fish is perhaps the biggest challenge in any fish farming business, but new options like worms, insects and algae are being developed all the time to reduce use of wild fish to feed farmed fish (which is inefficient and takes food away from wildlife and coastal communities).
It depends on things like where the system is located (which affects temperature and humidity), what type of fish is grown (cold- or warm-water species) and how the system is powered. Some farms run “off grid” on solar energy!
It depends on the size of the system – because fish farms focus on raising fish only and therefore might have larger or deeper tanks, they might use more water than an aquaponic or hydroponic farm which includes growing produce in shallower pools or beds. But in all recirculating farms, the water is recirculated, so overall water loss is minimized and there is no runoff. Some systems replace as little as one percent of total volume daily and use up to 85 percent less water (some say even more) than conventional agriculture to grow fish and plants together.