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Interesting Challenge... moving the research community to "support" the local community!

Got back from the 8th annual engineering conference on Aquaculture, Roanoke, VA.
I was impressed by two things:
1) how much they have accomplished in the high density production of fish, and
2) how hard they are working to solve the very problems that aquaponics solves so well.
Research papers presented and attended by engineers from 23 countries!

They are investing an enormous amount of time, money, and energy (literally, electrical energy) to produce tonnes of fish. Most of the major issues, DO (dissolved oxygen), waste products, water treatment can be managed effectively with aquaponics but not at the tonnage that they are trying to achieve.

Most of the papers presented were on the order of how to solve those problems within a high density aquaculture setting; raising fish in isolation.

One of the newest research topics: bio-floc... feeding fish from the microorganisms that grow in the system. The concern is that the cost of "fish meal" is sky rocketing (not so much the fact that the oceans are being stripped to feed the aqua-cultured fish), with wheat & soybean to follow.

excerpted definition: Bio-floc farming encourages a bacterial community in the pond or raceway. Once established and maintained, bacteria-dominated ponds or raceways are more stable than algae-dominated ponds. The bacteria accumulate in clumps called flocs, more about flocs in a moment, and gobble up the nitrogenous wastes ten to a hundred times more efficiently than algae, they work night and day, pay little attention to the weather—and turn those nitrogenous wastes into high-protein feed for the shrimp.Bio-flocs consist of variety of bacteria, funghi, microalgae, and other organisms suspend with detritus in culture water. Flocs treat and bio convert both dissolved and particulate wastes into microbial biomass. Flocs play roles in water treatment and natural food production, reducing feed and disposal waste costs.

But why the high density? why that approach?

The majority of funding, of course, comes from the "industial" corporations at the university research centers. Think CAFO ... i.e. confined animal feeding operations... feed lots (cattle, hog, chicken, etc) that can maximize profits on the smallest footprint.

I saw some stunning results... tanks full of atlantic salmon, 8 lbs each, at least... in pristine water, with an annual tonnage of 50, being projected, for delivery. Incredibly dependent on very, very high energy input, O2 injectors (cost of the O2), fed by the ocean "junk" fish, wheat, and corn currently. With the bio-floc development the dependence on ocean fishmeal can be reduced.

BioFloc, at this point, is filtered, drawn off, dried, pelleted, and fed back to the fish (again, a very high energy intense process).So most of the research is done which will support the current industry model as they are providing the grant money.

When asked what our interest was (my husband & I) many conference attendees were fascinated by the idea of including grow-beds to round out a fish growth system! Explaining that we are developing a sustainable farm with grass fed beef, heritage pork, dairy cows, and free range poultry... and would like to add fish, as well as hydroponic grow-beds, in addition to our organic gardens, for our local market.

Our interest is to develop a system that could work in small communities with minimal energy and water use. It did not have to produce tonnage... just enough for a local food market (i.e. the 100 mile diet). We were repeatedly asked to have information forwarded to them. Many of these requestors where PhD's, MD, and industry experts!

The challenge I think, is to develop the documentation, collect the data, and then present it as a very viable alternative for the niche market/local sustainability.

Anyone have thoughts on this subject???? Seems to me that this education facilities are built with tax paper money and the research that is being done there, should also benefit the "layman". I think for some of these guys, if there was a request, they would be more than happy to "work" on a project that has a broader base in a less centralized system.

1 hr N of San Francisco

This conference is held every two years...

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Comment by Sahib Punjabi on October 12, 2011 at 5:40am


As promised in previous posts and some others, I am very close to meeting the challenge you posed...

"Interesting Challenge... moving the research community to "support" the local community!"


Hopefully I will soon share information with you and Community members as to such projects hopefully about to commence both here and overseas. The initial planning steps are being taken for "Feeding the Villages" : Aquaponics training workshops for sustainable living and my Sahib's Aquaponic Research farm will begin to duplicate itself at different locations and further adapt as the need arises so as to take full advantage of local resources.


I note that other such ventures, such as that noted by Jerome Peloquin in an earlier post, are also eager to share such and would encourage them to come and participate in such training seminars, especially as they are using pictures of Sahib's Aquaponic Research Farm. That way, more of us can hopefully assist and aid in meeting this challenge.


I / We need all the support in this cause :-)


God bless

Comment by Kobus Jooste on October 12, 2011 at 12:04am

Somehow I never saw this one.....................


This blog and I'm sure much of the comments that I did not have time to read is very similar to my South African experience.  Aquaponics is always getting lumped with aquaculture, while the aquaculture industry is doing its utmost (it seems) to go high tech, high density and invariably high cost.  They talk liquid oxygen injection just to keep DO between 4 and 5 and I stand there wondering where they are headed.  There is inevitably no interest in aquaponics from them because we eant to be sustainable and therefore go for managable stocking densities.  They are the feed lots of the aquatic world.  The two industries, in my opinion, will diverge soon and there will maybe be a borrowing of equipment from time to time but that is about it.


For me, in South Africa, the driving force for aquaponics is different to many developed markets, thus I'm not sure if my examples are going to be of any use.  I have also seen a few comments around "don't ask for grants because then you are in the pockets of big ag or government".  For me, that is not the view of someone that is looking to influence mainstream policy to incorporate the ideal of aquaponics, but the view of someone that is inherently sceptical of all things government driven.  There is reason for that I am sure.  I have a different perspective though.  There are three reasons why intensive sulture is not likely to stay cost effective in a resource limited world:

  1. Cost of water
  2. Cost of electricity
  3. Cost of food

Government agencies in South Africa are tasked, as most developing countries are, to strike a balance between development, employment opportunities and sustainable resource use.  This is where aquaponics comes to its own.  My strategy to date have been to study government agriculture policy, to look at industry trends and then to design projects around these.  Things are often slow and frustrating, but unless the aquaponics industry in your region is strong enough to develop itself, I think this is a prudent strategy.  You are not selling out to anyone to get a buck - you stay true to sustainable production but you ask for funding from people that will potentially be able to gain from your results. In a recent conference, I could see how this strategy is going to pay off long term.  Aquaculture growth in South Africa is flatlining because the industry is up a creek without a paddle and then shouting at government to throw them a lifeline.  Agriculture wants jobs and sustainability, while the industry wants to be in perpetual research phase playing with high density and high value only.  The trick is to stay true to your ideals while showing the suits the benefits of what you are working on.  I was not popular there...........................................but it was a good networking opportunity.

Comment by Jerome Peloquin on October 11, 2011 at 10:10pm
The Family Fish Farms Network plans to develop a network of community owned and operated urban micro aquaponic farms providing fresh nutritious food and decent green jobs in the inner cities where both are urgently needed.  We are a social business.The Family Fish Farms Network is wrestling with the issue of convincing the professional investor community that we are a viable business model.  We share your concerns and your hopes for aquaponics being the solution to many economic, nutritional, environmental, and even social problems facing our green planet.  Our blog also:
Comment by ericjf7 on August 28, 2010 at 12:19am
Relevant post to another site:
While this incredible technology (Aquaponics) is indeed being developed in what may be known as 'the affluent/developed world', due to our greater capacities of communications, and the ever important liquid capital; one can only hope that some of this great technology will someday filter through to the vast number of people less fortunate than us.

It is for this reason that I respectfully submitted a link to a series of videos showing basic, down to earth, 'developing world' technologies used to create wells, and various means and applications for pumping water, including windmill. This in a situation where people have no other resources. This basic technology can very well apply to aquaponic scenarios where there is ample manpower, but little or no food, land, or other resources.

Furthermore this line of reasoning is very much in line with discussions between (xxxxxx and xxxx), as to alternative methods of circulating water should all else fail, or in situations where there is no other way to consider making aquaponics a viable option. It was from this perspective that I very much appreciated the link showing various alternative uses of the bicycle, which is also very timely for the direction I am heading as to introducing technologies in destitute and needy situations.
As an introduction to this comment:

In the interest of developing food for all these fishes, am wondering if any work has been done to investigate the use of Moringa, a plant (tree) with higher vitamin and nutrient content than most any other plant on earth - could it be a supplemental food source for omnivores such as tilapia. A world map of where the Moringa grows, matches, almost exactly, the area we know as the 'developing world', and is (there) being developed as a food source for people and livestock with amazing productivity results. Here is a very comprehensive website is devoted to the plant --

-- Some the best information on the site is in the downloadable 'presentations'.

Also here are some links to bicycle power, which may lead to alternate ways of circulating and pumping water, and generating power:


Also, another bicycle generator:

More alternative ways towards pumping and finding water, including windmill:

Comment by Amy D Crawford on August 27, 2010 at 4:17pm
Comment by Matthew Holzmann on August 24, 2010 at 10:37pm

I feel you. How do we create the solutions for the small-market, low energy, low resource consumption aquaponic design?

As a service member that has been deployed to Afghanistan, I feel that I have a unique perspective of our country's impact on the planet through not just our energy consumption, but our generally consumptive ideations. While in Helmand Province, I saw an incredibly healthy populace that worked hard for their living, produced food locally, and managed to source most of their lifestyle locally...probably not entirely by choice, but successfully nonetheless.

First off Matthew, thank YOU for your service, your energy, and the time you gave up from your family! I love the picture of you and your little one... so precious.

Living in another culture certainly broadens one's perspective, and makes me thankful for the gifts we have here in this country (the climate, water, soil, etc!!!) that we take for granted. But we are so "rich" and don't even realize the extent of it, take it for granted, and in reality, abuse it while not appreciating what we have.

Yet, the whole time, every family lived in fear of what the Taliban would/could do to their lifestyle and livelihood - water allotments can be used as a way to force farmers to bend to will of the enemy and obviously more violent forms of intimidation are used to 'encourage' cash crops that the US deems undesirable. On patrols, I regularly pondered how the average, good, hard-working farmers could break free of their oppressive countrymen.

While operating in the village of Nawa, I was struck by the opportunities that aquaponics could provide within the typical family compound. If renewable energy sources (micro-hydroelectric, wind, or solar - there simply is no power grid in rural Afghanistan...none) were made available and combined with low-energy aquaponic designs, then I'm quite certain that the family's food security falls off the list of worries of the average Afghan farmer. Additionally, the diet suddenly has an injection of healthy protein, namely fish, and a new marketable item that can be far more productive than cattle, goats, and sheep, which are poorly fed due to lack of quality grazing areas. When thinking about Afghanistan's bread basket, it is imperative to remain cognizant that the desert is creeping in on every side of the Helmand River valley, which provides roughly a 1 mile corridor of green in the canalized areas.

I think you have clearly made the connection of how significant and empowering a low-energy aqua-ponic design could be, especially in parts of the world where resources are so limited. Being able to meet basic needs without destroying the environment you are dependent on, is priceless. A way out of a hopeless trap. I'm reminded of the women in Ethiopia who traveled miles to gather wood for cooking, creating the deforestation that produces the desertfication that destroys their productive land. And what choice do they have outside of starvation? Yet a simple sunoven would make a dramatic difference and provide a different future.

I believe that the local market solutions you speak of are incredibly beneficial here in the States. And, I believe that the technologies and techniques could benefit our cause abroad, as well. I'd much rather be carrying greenhouse materials with our Afghan partners, than my gun. As we solve these problems locally, we can create solutions globally.As my husband would say, "right on!"</

I'm very heartened by your reflections... it's people like you who WILL make a difference!

Comment by Amy D Crawford on August 27, 2010 at 3:28pm
Comment by HeatherTwist on August 24, 2010 at 10:28pm

I think the "Bigger is Better" syndrome plus "Mono-Cropping" runs rampant!

But I think you are right about the local market concept becoming more mainstream. It's slowly happening and it's being pushed by "industrial foods" failures in safety. I mean,we used to be concerned about the antibx use (some 70% of antibiotics are used in LIVESTOCK production!) but now we are seeing the direct contamination of food with the subsequent massive recalls and people in the hospital! Local farmer's markets are suddenly being seen as not so much as a yuppy luxury item or eccentric but as to opt out of the industrial system. The movie, Food, Inc., really made an impression on people. It's really exciting to see it happening!

Keep plugging away... it's hard to be ahead of the mainstream but critical!

I love the bio-floc idea. I do a fair bit with bacteria now, and the stable communities are very, very stable. But the idea of super-intense growing .... HOW in the world did we get into that rat-race? The current fiasco with chicken eggs should be a wake-up call. There is no reason to super-intensify everything. I have a small group of chickens and they supply eggs to my family and a few others ... the chickens are very healthy and the amount of work is minimal, and they work as a garbage-disposal and fertilizer factory too. There are more and more "egg ladies" cropping up around here, as people are beginning to realize the value of homegrown eggs. It's been an odd change. When I started out, people were leery of eating eggs that weren't bought at a store (store=safe). Now people grab the eggs whenever they are available and love them. It's a fundamental change in outlook. People are beginning to value the local farmer's market more too.

Locally-produced fish should be on the menu too, and I kind of think they will be. The corporate folks will find a way to mass-produce fish, but people might value the fresher ones from the local "fish person" down the street.
Comment by Amy D Crawford on August 27, 2010 at 3:12pm
Comment by Raychel A Watkins 1 day ago
Delete Comment Aloha
I enjoyed your coments. I worked in Academia for 10 years. First as a graduate student and then as an instructor. In those 10 years I had a budget of $00.00. Yes that is correct nothing. Yet in those 10 years I did enough research to keep 2 professors writting papers. We published more papers off my low budget research than either had produced before or since. I am a firm believer in using what you can find especially things others are about to throw away. I am a Clinical Laboratory Scientist by trade. The clinical lab has to throw all out dated stuff away and I was their trash container. Out dating has nothing to do with wether the product will work or not it is just a way to raise the cost of medical bills. I kid you not.
I know what you mean about "outdated stuff"; while working in labor & delivery I set out a huge box in the nurses lounge to collect items that could no longer be used on our unit because the outer layer of a sterile item had been removed (frequently in prep for a emergency c/s that was avoided), or suture packs that had been opened but not the inner sealed packet, or extra drapes, sterile disposable towels, etc). any assorted items that might be used... to be sent to a developing country where they were "like gold" was quite impressive what we collected in just one week!

I have named my aquaponics " Start where you are, Use what you have, Scrounge for the rest, Low budget aquaponics for non rocket scientest." Thats it in a nut shell. Our University here just helped the Mental Hospital set up an aquaponics system for the patients. The ppatients do all the growing, harvesting, and the like. They had the pictures in the newspaper. The grow beds must cost at least $1000.00 each. What did the patient learn about sustainability in this project. Sure they can grow vegetables in the system but could they build a system. Could the average person afford the system. I think not. I am a pied piper when it comes to aquaponics. I try to drag everyone I can to my farm. When they look at web sites they say I can never afford that but after comming to my house they see it is possible.
Personally I think that is one of the best approaches; working from scratch allows you to understand the nuances of a system and how important different aspects are... and what you can do to fine tune it. Now, can everybody do that... I don't think so. It takes a very creative, thinking mindset to do that. The reality is that not everyone is capable of doing that... "we all have different talents and skill sets". I have to remind my husband that because he can "see" something so clearly, does not me that I, or others around him, can. It's not about stupidity or ignorance... its about capacity. Some things I can learn once shown, my eyes can then "see" but we all bring something to the table. Some people just bring more to the table! Sounds like your talent is being able to "see" where others do not, and can then show/demo how to do it.

I tried aquaculture for a year and I worked myself to death trying to keep the tanks clean and still lost fish. I had a torn retina and couldn't do anything for awhile and my chiropractor introduced me to aquaponics. I still work myself to death but in a different way. I keep figuring out new ways to make a system, I totally agree this idea of mass production of the fish to feed the masses is not the answer. We have to get everyone involved in their own system and feeding their own family and spreading the good news " You don't have to go hungry and it is not expensive." One by one each of us convincing another and we may save the world. There is so little waste in a home falmily system. Actually there isn't even much waste in a big commercial system and look how little space it takes up.
What is encouraging is to show how little space you need to actually do something productive! I know right now it is much "easier" to walk into a grocery store and just buy but what happens if money becomes a real significant issue, availability is no longer there, or (as we are seeing over and over again) safety of the food is a real concern.

I love the idea of alternative food for the fish especially if we can naturally produce it. The class I took said never feed tilipia duckweed. They have to be starving to eat it. My look forward to it I actually give it to them after their regular feed. I call it their desert. They devour it. I have had a bad ammonia problem lately and I am blaming it on this brand of feed I had to buy as the supplier ran out of the kind I normally use. I have never had such left over food in the water. This is all just waste and as has been stated we are depleting the ocean of its fish to feed to other fish. I look forward to working on other types of food.

Never heard that about duckweed... not feeding it; it's always been the other way... high protein source and easy to grow, fish love it! Kudos for sticking to your guns and seeing how it played out in the real world, instead of taking someone else's word for it. I have heard of problems with mold in some of the feed ingredients... and that it is making livestock sick, so can easily imagine that being true in fish food. I had no idea how much of the food they get is from wheat, soybean, corn, etc.

Enough already. Mahalo for listening I am adement about sustainability. This leads to just one more thought. I work in a hospital and a week ago I was talking to some nurses about how excited I was about aquaponics. This nurse pipes up and says " My mother and father made us help in the garden and pick and prepare the fresh food and we really didn't have to. Meaning they could afford the grocery store. Then she added. " I would never subject my children to that. That is just cruel" Need I say more.

"Incredibly SAD STATE of affairs..." Perhaps when food safety is staring her in the face, and the decreasing food value of petrochemical fertilized food becomes apparent, she will rethink her position. Especially as that affects the health of her own children's immune system and nutrition. Frequently it's when people are confronted with the health of their children that mind set's are most open to change.

Thank you for your comments, they've been great to hear!
Comment by Amy D Crawford on August 26, 2010 at 11:25am
Carl, I think you put your finger on a very important part: multi-nodal approach is critical. Like you pointed out, much more stable than putting all your eggs in one basket!

I agree; would NOT want to appeal to government entities for grants. It gets back to putting control into someone else's hands... but suggesting useful lines of research would be a different matter.

And no, not every one would be interested but I am fascinated by how many young researchers WERE interested in the more holistic model. I think they can clearly see the risk of such a fragile system when dependence on energy and mechanics are basic. The time to correct a problem in some of these high density set-ups... 15 minutes. If you haven't corrected the problem, or a good start, within 15 minutes you are at risk of losing a multi-million dollar investment. Given the number of pumps, injectors, O2 tanks, settling tanks, automatic feeders, etc., back-up generators... it's only a question of time.
Comment by Carl Smith on August 25, 2010 at 8:17pm
I would advocate that we avoid appealing to government entities for grants etc. Thats how we would loose control and that is also a reason to learn how to make smaller local systems profitable. The smaller and more independent we are the better we are able to self regulate quality and organize etc. The more we dip into the tax purse the more strings the bureaucrats attach. Take advantage of Google and all the tax payer funded research that is available on-line and learn to your hearts content.
Comment by Raychel A Watkins on August 25, 2010 at 6:31pm
I am back again. Actually I am having a very slow day at work so I have nothing else to do. I have read most of the comments and they are good. I believe that you will never convine the Universities of anything. They are set in their ways and each scientest is very secreticve. Nothing much is accomplished despite the huge investment from the taxpayer. It has to be a grass roots movement. We each tell and convince as many others as we can. One by one we change the world and one day the big commercial guys find themselves out of business.

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