Is Aquaponics an Alternative to Aquaculture?

Aquaculture, as any regular reader of this blog will know, refers to the practice of rearing marine animals (normally fish, but other species do get used) in water. Ponds, lakes, marshland, brackish water, and the ocean are examples of bodies of water where this process occurs naturally. However, it can also be done in artificial tanks, such as those seen in fish hatcheries.

The big problem is that aquaculture has an impact on the ecosystem both locally and worldwide, regardless of where it is employed. So to become an environmentally sustainable and commercially viable activity, strong resource management and careful site selection are required. Aquaponics, on the other hand, is a very cost-effective and natural alternative.

What is Aquaponics?

Aquaponics is the practice of raising marine animals in tanks or ponds without the use of soil, vegetables, fruits, or seaweed. A properly configured aquaponics system is a well-balanced closed system that mimics the process that occurs in natural ponds where plants and animals coexist together. You can read more about it here.

Aquaculture, while similar, has some environmental issues that aquaponics has remedied organically. Let’s take a closer look at these:

Waste Management

Waste management is an unavoidable part of aquaculture practice. Unused food, metabolic excretions, and feces are among an aquaculture farm’s effluents. They are made up of organic solid waste as well as dissolved organic and inorganic nutrients that are discharged into the environment on a daily basis.

Water treatment plant for sewage waste water

Because significant consequences, such as eutrophication, oxygen depletion, and modification of the local biodiversity can occur both in the water column and in the bottom substrate, the out-flow of these compounds should never exceed the natural absorption capacity of the local ecosystem.

It is critical to refill the tank with clean water and discharge the wastewater. Of course, this necessitates the consumption of a large amount of water.

By contrast, there is no waste in aquaponics. It’s a closed, well-balanced system.

In aquaculture, what is considered waste is actually a valuable input for balancing the demands of the fish and the needs of the vegetables. Bacterial colonies are responsible for converting ammonia and nitrite into nitrogen that plants may easily absorb. Worms are another possible participant. They can digest fish waste, extra roots, and other sloughed-off plant debris, making them more bio-available to the plants. The various natural filters ensure that the water in the fish tank is always clean. There is no need to replace the water or release it into the environment. The farmer has less work to do and there is no risk to the environment.

What About The Fish Food?

The food for cultivated fish in aquaculture is usually obtained by processing fish caught at sea. This, unfortunately, contributes heavily to ocean overharvesting. Another issue is that fish food is frequently injected with hormones to stimulate rapid growth, and in certain cases, chemicals are added to alter their color, like synthetic astaxanthin in salmon to increase the pink color.

Salmon. Fresh salmon fish. Raw salmon fish fillet
Salmon. We expect our fish to be pink – this may not be 100% natural.

The quality of the food is a priority in an aquaponics system in order to maintain its overall health and to help it produce organic vegetables and fish. Hormones and other synthetic substances are not allowed in this closed system since they interfere with the plants’ metabolism. The introduction of a worm farm, a black fly farm, or duckweed tanks to supplement high-quality commercial food that frequently comes from vegetal protein sources can naturally augment the diet of the fish (as has been proposed by the National Organic Standards Board, limiting the amount of fishmeal and fish oils in organically certified aquaculture products).

Beware Veterinary Medicines.

The life circumstances of the animals involved in aquaculture, like any factory-farmed meat, are not ideal, and they are frequently kept alive by the use of antibiotics. Furthermore, if the discharged water has not been adequately neutralized or diluted, any medical treatment offered to the grown fish poses a risk to the natural environment.

Antibiotics for fish are not required in aquaponics because they can harm the bacteria that keep the ecosystem balanced. The high amounts of oxygen in aquaponics systems, as well as the activity of the worms, serve to prevent disease outbreaks in both fish and plants. There is no risk of contaminating the natural environment if a specific sickness needs to be treated.

The Risk of Pathogen Transmission to the Wild

Due to the necessity of emptying the water, disease transfer to wild stock populations is a real problem in aquaculture.

Because aquaponics is a closed system, any issues with the fish’s health will be addressed within the system. In the wild, there is no danger of contaminating other species. This follows naturally from municipal rules prohibiting the release of farmed species into the environment. Aquaponics is a well-balanced ecosystem that supports fish and plant health and vitality.

The Use of Anti-Fouling Products.

Antifouling products are required in aquaculture tanks to prevent or reduce biofouling. The progressive collection of organisms such as bacteria and protozoa on the surfaces of tanks in contact with water is known as biofouling.

Because biofouling is a natural process in a wet environment, it is not necessary to remove microorganisms or algae in aquaponics. They are a part of the living equilibrium of an ecosystem. Algae, for example, is a good source of nutrition for some fish species.


As we’ve seen, aquaponics is a fantastic alternative for individuals who are committed to environmental sustainability and want to ensure the future of our world. It’s a procedure that can be repeated continuously as part of an eternal virtuous cycle, allowing for organic harvest throughout the year. Furthermore, it is a wonderful alternative for people seeking efficiency and simplicity in their food self-sufficiency journey.

Take advantage of this opportunity to learn more about what aquaponics has to offer if you use aquaculture practices in your business or at home.

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