Aquaponic Gardening

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You read that right.


Back-story: My mother and sister live in the most northeastern part of the state, Modoc county, Ca. BEAUTIFUL area, but nowhere near enough going on for me. The entire county has ONE traffic signal, a flashing red light at the intersection of two major roads. There is, however, a commercial grow-out farm right off of hwy 299 just west of the city of Alturas. The response below is from my sister, who works in natural resources and is pretty savvy when it comes to agricultural permits and whatnot. She also used to work for the Department of Fish and Game. The farm uses a natural geothermal well on site to heat their water.

"They grow tilapia and catfish. they sell a truckload per week, and are right on the highway, so I'm sure they have the permits needed, if any are needed. I will try to get you their phone number. I hear they are pretty open about growing fish.

They are not using natural waterways for growing. Therefore DFG can't stop them. They grow in elevated tanks, that drain to cooling ponds for the water that sub filters/ leeches back into the river. They are using hot well water, so no Department of water resources water rights are required (in Oregon they would be required on well water). By not discharging directly back into the river, they avoid the evil-est department of them all: state water resources control board. They didn't alter a natural stream so no Army corps permits are required, even the ponds are shallow enough that they avoid the levee and dam requirements.
Because they are growing commercial, non-native fish, DFG isn't the regulator (as long as there isn't a way for them to escape into the rivers and take over). It becomes the dept of ag folks instead I think. The only complaint the local agencies have is that they have a nasty invasive weed growing next to their tanks that we can't get them to spray. Although I hear they did take care of some of it last summer.
Funny to read this today. I am sitting in a conference room surrounded with a sea of very technical paperwork for permits to three agencies for restoration projects, but the massive fish farm down the road doesn't seem to require a single one. I have covered the whole conference table and still have more to do by the end of today! Yet one of the biggest, if not THE biggest, operation of its type in the county may only need one!"
Elevated tanks you say? Gosh that sounds familiar.....
Begin debate.
Location of the farm for any interested in looking at it on satellite view.
41.450961, -120.831113

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Hey Fishy. Something fishy with your story. DFG does have jurisdiction over all fish grown for human consumption, even if grown in a bathtub inside a firesafe, that is inside a bomb shelter, in the middle a junkyard guarded by pitbulls.

Also, if they dump their water in the open air, even if it leaches through sand before entering the river, then there is a chance fry could be picked up by birds and carried to waterways (especially during floods), and of course the nutrient pollution may still make it's way to waterways or groundwater. I'm not saying it does, but DFG would want to know.

And, DFG does have a prohibited species list, which covers import, export, and possession. Blue and Nile tilapia are prohibited, hornorum and mossambicus ok.

Top of page 5, and they do NOT have tilapia approval for aquaculture.

The listing on page 5 is a different farm, you can opt out of being listed on that publication when registering. See the "Attention Applicants" line about 1/3 of the way down the first page of this form. The farm in question does not sell to the public, no reason to be listed.

I know it is contrary to everything DFG says in their documentation, but the farm has been going for several years. It is no secret what they are doing. The road they are on is the main artery between Redding and the county seat, Alturas. You can practically roll down the window and spit on their tanks when driving by. They contract with someone in the SF bay area who brings them fingerlings, they grow them out, and the truck hauls back market size fish once a week.

Either they found the loophole we've all been praying for, or they're operating outside the law.

Frankly, and from here on in is purely my opinion, I fail to see how FNG has any authority on anything in closed loop aquaponic systems, as they have little jurisdiction on the aquarium industry.  Aquariums and aquaponic tanks aren't all that different, we just have way cooler tank filters than those guys do. I'd bet that someone who buys a fish for their aquarium which ends up growing much faster than expected is more likely to dump it in a river or lake than an aquapon. We'd just eat the sucker! If the deciding factor is that the fish are for human consumption, why the heck is it FNG's department? Fish for food reared in closed systems seems like a subject which should be presided over by the department of AG, or some other food safety bureaucrats.

At most, a closed loop system should have an annual inspection to ensure the operation and its procedures are functioning with minimal risk for introducing non native species to waterways, and then it would be the food safety people's job to ensure the system is producing healthy, disease free fish.

I'm with you, Fishy. I don't doubt that they exist, or even that they raise tilapia and sell it to markets. I'm just stating that if they do, they are either operating outside the law, or they have bribed the proper DFG officials for paperwork, which is both likely and possible, even probable. DFG does have, and should have, jurisdiction over fish farming. However, DFG is corrupt and fraudulent with their authority, and illogical with their policy.

And it sounded like the aquaculture business you described takes in geothermal spring water, and dumps it through a sand bed, which is NOT a closed loop system. If they stand a chance of contaminating groundwater, then there should be a watchdog monitoring that.

DFG is not involved with the aquarium industry because it is too big and fights too hard to control. So they made some exemptions in the requirements for aquaculture. Specifically, temperate species of ONLY koi and goldfish are exempt, and all tropical freshwater fish NOT for human consumption, are exempt. In Cali, you and I and anyone can raise any tropical freshwater fish in a closed system for hobby purposes, as long as it is not on the prohibited list. If we decide to eat it, that is out choice. We can even buy and sell live fish for profit, for hobby fish, and we can sell fish fillets for pet food, without an aquaculture permit.

Technically, we have to have a stocking permit for any temperate fish other than koi and goldfish, including bass, bluegill, crappie, catfish, and natives like trout, sac blackfish, and sac perch. This is a gray area, because one bit of verbage in the code states that 'freshwater for hobby purposes' are exempt, and another bit of verbage in the same code states that 'tropical freshwater' are exempt. Probably a typo, and until they fix it I'm running with the statement that 'all freshwater fish' for hobby purposes are exempt. I personally think that all Cali natives should be exempt from all permit requirements. What is DFG afraid of, that a native fish might escape back into a native waterway?

You are correct sir, they are not a closed loop system. I was more going on a tirade about the plight of the aquaponic farmer

Sounds like I need to start thinking of myself as an aquarium hobbiest and sell/give only pet food to my close friends and family.

You're quite right, Peter, especially with catfish. It is positively illegal to buy catfish from out of state, and those who get permission to do so must quarantine them for 60 days (I think), due to "hole in the head disease". According to a hatchery near us in Cali, the disease is already present in Cali, but DFG won't admit it. I ordered a large batch of bluegill (2000) and along with the load came about 200 jumbo minnows, 50 crappie, 50 green sunfish, and some big tadpoles. The jumbo minnows originate from Alabama, and apparently won't even breed here in Cali. I can't believe it is profitable to truck live minnows from Alabama to Cali simply for a forage fish. These minnows suck. They looked pretty bad to start with, and a steady number of them die off every day. I hope they don't carry the flatworms you spoke of, Peter. What do they look like and where do I look for them? Do they infect other species?

As far as tilapia, I am unaware of them carrying any common disease, and not sure a tropical disease could contaminate temperate species. I'd be surprised if there were any, because in my numerous conversations with DFG regarding tilapia, disease has never come up. For that matter, there is no restriction on importing any TROPICAL freshwater fish from out if state, regardless of hatchery certification.
BTW, Peter, how's the DFG catfish approval coming along?

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