Aquaponic Gardening

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As you know, aquaponics has all sorts of potential to benefit society and our environment.  At the same time, the practice of aquaponics has the potential to contribute to the risk of fish disease and proliferation of invasive species that may threaten commercial aquaculture and natural resources.   In California, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is considering how to minimize those risks while promoting the beneficial aspects of aquaponics.  One aspect of that effort involves developing appropriate regulations for the practice of aquaponics.   A group of aquaponics practitioners, state agency personnel, and academic personnel, together comprising the Aquaponics Subcommittee (APS) of the Aquaculture Development Committee (ADC) that advises the CDFW’s Aquaculture Coordinator, has come up with an initial proposal for regulation of aquaponics in California.  The ADC wants input on the proposal from the aquaponics community between now and their next meeting on January 8, 2015, at which time they plan to discuss the proposal and any input received.  A number of members of the aquaponics community, including myself, have volunteered to solicit input from aquaponics folks.

The initial proposal is posted here.  However, I think a discussion of terminology is necessary before you read it.  The proposal makes a significant distinction between aquaponics operations that sell fish and those that do not.  Unfortunately, the proposal uses the terms “commercial” and “non-commercial” to describe those two different categories, which is potentially confusing because an aquaponics operation that sells only vegetables and does not sell fish would be categorized as non-commercial in this context, even though in any other context, it would be considered commercial.  So, I have taken the liberty of inserting the alternate terms “fish-selling” and “non-fish-selling” into the text of the proposal below.  

Similarly, at one point the proposal describes an aquaponics operation that “produces” fish.  “Produces” could be interpreted to mean a breeding operation to produce fry/fingerlings/juveniles, but according to the APS member who submitted the proposal, that is not the intended meaning.  As such, I have taken the liberty of inserting the alternate term “utilizes,” which is more accurate.

PLEASE READ AND THINK ABOUT THE PROPOSAL AND SUBMIT YOUR COMMENTS BY DECEMBER 31, 2014.   You can submit your comments by posting a reply on this forum, or you can send comments directly to me at joezbro@gmail.com.  I will forward all comments received by December 31 to the APS prior to their January 8 meeting.  Feel free to contact me with any questions as well.  

Paul

Paul Trudeau

Southside Aquaponic Farm

Sacramento

916-533-5268 mobile

PS:  If you are a member of a local group on this or another forum, please notify your group members of this issue and direct them to the discussion posted here, as opposed to re-posting this announcement or the proposal in your own local group - I think it will be less confusing to have this single central thread where people comment.  Thank you.

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Replies to This Discussion

I am new to aquaponics, what regulation is there in place now?

Hi Mike,

There are general regulations about fishing, commercial aquaculture, and ornamental fish (ie the aquarium trade), Some of that applies to AP, but there's little or nothing yet that is specific to aquaponics, which doesn't fit neatly into any of those categories.

Ian Devisaki said:
So according to the proposed recommendations even hobbits will be affected and will need to registered (which may include a fee to cover the cost of paperwork.)
There is no language regarding the term of the registration. Have anyone heard if this license will be a one time registration or annual?

Hi Ian,

Yes, the proposal anticipates requiring hobbyists (non-fish-selling AP) to register, under different terms than those engaged in fish-selling aquaponics.  I get the impression that the hobbyist issue will be more complex for them to address than regulating fish-selling AP.

Good question about term of registration.  I'm not aware of any discussion of that so far, but I'm not that closely involved.  I think it's a great topic to offer your thoughts on.

Hi Paul,

Just a couple initial thoughts off the top of my head.

Specifically regarding the potential for invasive species - I know there has been an issue about Tilapia, for instance, as invasive. I would think there should be clear guidelines about a 'foreign' species being allowed to be in a 'closed' aquaponics system, which is to say, specific safeguards should be in place to prevent potentially invasive species from entering public waterways. One would think this would be straight forward enough, but California is adamant about the invasive species issue and rightly so. What they need to see is a definition for a 'closed' aquaponics system, a rationale for using 'foreign' species [Tilapia thrive in an aquaponics milieu, are good eating, and sell well], rather than strictly local species, and perhaps spatial offset and handling guidelines between closed aquaponics systems and public waterways and sewage systems.

Beyond this issue, I don't think anyone anywhere has ever gotten organic certification for aquaponically produced produce or fish. The problems in this regard have stemmed from the presence of fish fecal matter in the system. If there was a way to effectively define various micro-processes in the overall scope of defining 'aquaponics', and, in so doing, isolate the nitrification and filtration processes, so as to assuage policy-makers who are iffy about the usage of fecal matter as nutrient base, then California could become the first state to provide a policy basis for organically certified aquaponics products. 

Hi Tom,

Thanks for your thoughts.  In conversations I've had with CDFW staff, I know they are cognizant of exactly the issues you raise in the first paragraph of your comments.

Aquaponics systems have indeed been certified as organic.  Friendly Aquaponics in Hawaii says they were the first, and I have no reason to doubt that.  Closer to home, Aqua Gardens of Potter Valley (Mendocino County) (www.aquagardensfamilyfarm.com) reports they are unambiguously 100% Certified Organic by Oregon Tilth, complete with the USDA Organic label. 

For better or worse, I know there are other aquaponics operations that loosely describe themselves as organic with a lower-case "o", not necessarily claiming to be certified. 

Hi Paul, This all sounds pretty good. "Subsistence aquaponics" could be an appropriate change in verbiage for "non commercial". Seems to be what is being described there, production for personal consumption only.

Is there any discussion regarding an option for an additional fee and mandatory site inspection for "non commercial" systems to allow use of tilapia for personal consumption in regulated areas?

Any idea of what the fee structure will be?

Will the January 8 meeting be open to the public? I'd like to listen in.

Keep up the good work!!

Thanks Fishy.  Will pass on your suggestion re verbiage, along with rest of yours and others' comments.

Ah, "the T word", tilapia.  It was a big topic of conversation at a similar March 2013 meeting that was all about aquaponics, but I didn't hear any discussion of it this time. 

No, I don't know fee structure.  I get the impression CDFW recognizes that the steeper any fees are, the more likely folks will consider bypassing any type of registration altogether.  I think the State has a specific internal process for determining fee structures for any regulation, taking into account several factors including their enforcement costs. 

Yes, the Jan. 8 meeting will be open to the public.  Last week's meeting and draft agenda were posted at http://www.dfg.ca.gov/aquaculture/ and I would expect January's to be as well.  Next scheduled ADC meeting after that is in July.

Keep the cards and letters coming, everyone, as they say (or used to, anyway!)

Hi Paul,

Dustin and I looked over the proposal and were wondering if the state intends to have all hobbyists register regardless of the size of their system? He thought that any regulation should take into account the size of the system, and that below a certain size, hobby systems should be exempt from regulation as long as they follow the state rules regarding non-restricted fish (which they shouldn't be able to  legally obtain or transport without a permit from the DFW anyway). As a sort of oddball example, you wouldn't have someone changing their oil in the garage apply for a hazmat permit and pay a registration fee, but someone who changes the oil of five cars per day in their garage should do so. Perhaps more thought should be given to differentiating hobby systems based on size, location on the property, etc. A 5 gallon desktop system or 100 gallon balcony system is not quite the same as a 600 gallon system in a large backyard greenhouse with a drain that may have access to local waterways.

I noticed that if non-fish-selling operations give fish away, that the fish must leave the property dead. This does not address exchanging fingerlings between hobbyists. It would be a tragedy if it were illegal for a hobbyist, who has fingerlings of a non-restricted species, to give a few live fingerlings to a neighbor or to a newbie just starting up a system. Perhaps that should be part of the discussion for hobby systems?

I agree with Fishy that it would be nice if there were some separate way (more intensive registration process with higher fees and inspections?) for hobbyists to be able to grow Hornorum/Mossambica all-male Tilapia that do not breed (maybe with a certificate from the aquaculture facility showing the Tilapia to be of this species type and sex?). That way people who want to grow Tilapia have a pathway do so.

Thanks Dustin & Casey for your thoughtful comments!  Will pass them on...

I'm curious why separate regulation? If one agency already regulates the fish and one regulates the production of produce, then what would additional regulation accomplish specific to aquaponics that either of those entities don't already do?

I'm very interested to see how hobby aquaponics would be defined. If someone drops a floating lettuce head in their backyard pond are they suddenly subject to aquaponic system registration and fees? I am seeing many new aquaponic systems appearing on the market of all sizes, even at costco. It seems like as soon as you connect fish with vegetables in any way, one might be potentially subjected to registration? There would have to be some very clear definition of what systems we're talking about. 

while I understand the need to regulate invasive species with regard to keeping fish, it seems a little strange that one might end up having to pay registration fees for the right to produce one's own food on one's own property, especially when you wouldn't if the fish and veggie parts were not connected. 

Or am I totally off base and this is really only intented for larger operations that actually sell their produce commercially?

Roe.

Roe,

Great comments and questions.  I do not speak for the state, but let me reply from my own point of view:

Why separate regulation:  it's been a while since I read the CDFW regs on fish, but I remember clearly that there were regulations for people who raised fish commercially for sale live (for pond stocking, or to supply live to retail markets, etc.); those people need to register as aquaculturists and pay several hundred dollars annually in licensing fees.  Generally they are the only folks allowed to transport live fish anywhere.  Then there are regs for keeping ornamental fish - ie in aquariums.  The regs do allow aquarium shops to receive and sell live fish and customers to take them home live.  There are also regs about fishing, including requiring you to kill your catch before transporting it home.  But people like hobby aquaponics folks who want to raise live fish at home for personal consumption don't fall into any of those categories - I bet few or no people were doing AP when the regs were made, so the regs never addressed aquaponics.  A strict reading of current law could result in an interpretation that hobby aquaponics folks should actually be registering as aquaculturists now, which is not at all what that registration was intended for and which doesn't fit in so many ways.  There are probably similar gaps for commercial aquaponics practitioners.  Time to update the regs to fit the new reality.

Hobby AP:  you raise some very interesting questions that will need to be addressed.  My impression of folks in CDFW is that they will end up taking a common sense approach to those types of things.

The current initiative on regulation does apply to commercial systems but will also in some way to address hobby systems as well, because like it or not, the proliferation of aquaponics hobbyists raising and keeping fish, often outdoors in tanks or ponds, does present a materially different and added risk of something going wrong that would affect the environment and/or existing aquaculture operations.  Even the best-intentioned aquaponics person might be subject to a flood which could result in dumping a bunch of non-native or diseased fish into a local watershed, for example.  If I understand correctly, the effort to regulate aquaponics is motivated by wanting to take prudent measures to minimize such risks.

Again, these are just my personal views.

Paul, thanks so much for your response. looking forward to seeing how this develops. appreciate you sharing the info. 

Roe.

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