1. Aquaponics and Food Safety
2. Evaluation and Development of Aquaponics Production and Product Market Capabilities in Alberta
3. Why Aquaponics is essential for 21st Century Food Security and Production
by Jennifer Jacobs and Susan Miller
Background - Historic HighliAquaponics is a symbiotic technology that utilizes the waste from one system to power an additional system (Mensing 2010). This technology is beneficial when compared to traditional technologies. Combination of the culture of fish and plants in a recirculating system defines aquaponics (Rakocy et al. 2004).
The notion of combining aquaculture and agriculture has been linked to the ancient Chinese and Incas of Peru (Jones 2002). These ancient civilizations used primitive methods that diverted fish-pond water to fields, placed floating reed beds with soil on ponds, or simply placed fish parts directly in gardens to give plants nutrients.
More current methods of aquaponics started in the 1970’s with many attempts showing limited success. Over the past three decades, there has been numerous system designs tested on a variety of aquatic animal and plant species using diverse experimental protocols (Rakocy and Hargreaves 1993). The 1980’s was an era of innovation for aquaponics, and methods developed during this time have transformed aquaponics into a viable system of food production (Diver 2006).
Current Need, Demands for commercial industry.
Fish are a vital source of the human food. The current harvest trends of commercial fishing are putting this protein source at risk. The animal protein content is 1/5 fish in the human diet. There are approximately 1 billion people that rely on fish as their principal protein source. The production of fish products is far greater than global production of poultry, beef, or pork. Projections advocate that contribution of fish to the global food supply is likely to decline in the next two decades as demand for fish increases. The demand for fish as a protein source could be fulfilled only if aquaculture production doubles and overfishing is regulated; allowing ocean fish stocks to recover.
The likelihood is that there will only be moderate aquaculture growth and there will be a plateau in current levels of ocean catch. This leaves a considerable gap between supply and demand and also results in an increase in the market cost of fish.
Shortfalls in fish provisions are expected to affect non-industrialized nations more than industrialized nations. As demand and fish prices increase, exports of fish products from non-industrialized nations will increase. Fewer fish products will be available for local consumption and fish protein will be unattainable for the low-income families.
Aquaponics allows for production of two crops in a much smaller area than traditional aquaculture and agriculture. Aquaponics can increase sustainability of produce and fish production; while also creating a considerable growth in local food production. This reinforces food security while protecting natural resources. This will become vital as the population grows and the climate changes. (http://www.wri.org/publication/content/8385)
Making the case for Aquaponics as part of the commercial seafood industry; local/fresh produce industry, import, and local food security.
Aquaponics could assist in the alleviation of limitations that the local seafood industry faces. The most major limitation being that some waters are extremely overfished and humans still consume the over fished species as if they are not depleting in nature. This means the existing demand for local fish is not being met sustainably. The major hurdle is changing the public view to realize that this process can’t continue. Marine fish can’t be raised in aquaponics but species like tilapia can.
While tilapia is not a Cod or Haddock it is a similar light white fish. This does not mean that people have to completely eliminate native fish from their diet, but replacement with tilapia for many meals would give native wild populations a chance to regenerate themselves. The aquaponically farmed tilapias have higher levels of Omega-3s than Atlantic Cod and Haddock. These tilapias also have much lower mercury content than marine fish species. Tilapias are also less costly than marine species and aquaponics allows year-round production giving them a consistent price throughout the year. This is not true for wild species whose prices fluctuate with season and weather.
Aquaponics also has the potential of increasing local food production. This in turn offers an opportunity for local employment, reinvests money in the state of local community. Local food often has a better flavor than commercial varieties. This is because local food is cultivated for taste whereas commercial food are cultivated for their ability to withstand freezing, packing, and shipping for hundreds up to thousands of miles.
Aquaponics allows for something that traditional aquaculture and agriculture do not allow for. Since the systems use such little land space they can be built near markets. Depending on the vegetable crop being produced aquaponics can be anywhere from three to twenty times more productive than field production. This productivity yield does not account for the added benefit of year round production in aquaponics. The closed loop re-circulating system also allows for the systems to be built on land that is not ideal for farming since it does not depend on the properties of the soil in the area. The production of food using a reduced footprint permits additional land to remain open and available to protect natural habitats.
Locally produced foods tend to produce less greenhouse gas (GHG) due to fact there is no need for preservation for shipping and minimal packaging is needed. Aquaponics greatly reduces the use of GHG. The fertilizer for the plants comes from the fish waste instead of from inorganic fertilizers. Inorganic fertilizers use massive amounts of fossil fuels to be produced. Aquaponics allows for the fertilizer to be produced on site by the fish and therefore also eliminates the need for transportation of nutrients found in hydroponics. Pesticides and herbicides are also typically produced using fossil fuels and their application can have negative effects on the environment. Since aquaponics is a closed loop system herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides can’t be used because the chemicals will harm the fish. Biological pest removal methods are used instead. Climate change presents a major economic argument for increasing local food production. Climate change has caused an increase in areas that face water stress; especially in major agricultural areas such as the Great Plains and the southwest, which includes California. Water shortages in these agricultural areas can lead to a rise in costs of imported foods. Having food produced within a region for that region will insulate the local communities from these rising costs. As our country seeks methods for increasing energy independence; it should also look at methods to increase food independence. (http://alifeaquaponic.blogspot.com/2011/01/aquaponics-in-new-england.html)
What aquaculture challenges, aquaponics addresses, and how.
The principles that the aquaponic system follows demonstrates why it is optimal as a sustainable food production method. Fish waste, produced by fish feed (which provides most of the nutrients required for plants to grow) (Rakocy et al. 2004), is the base nutrient source for nitrifying bacteria. The effluent from the fish culture tanks flows through the hydroponic component. Natural filtration occurs by nitrifying bacteria and plants roots remove the fish waste metabolites. This treats the water by eliminating toxic fish waste before it flows back to the fish-rearing tank for reuse (Rakocy et al. 2004). A mini ecologically sound ecosystem is created where both plants and fish will thrive (Al-Hafedh et al. 2008). This polyculture method increases diversity and yields in multiple products. Thus, the mini ecosystem maximizes production while using less water than is used to produce the same quantity of fish and vegetables in traditional practices (Rakocy et al. 2004). Aquaponics research is becoming very important in creating sustainable food production. The human population is growing at an excessive rate and natural resources are starting to face depletion.
The goal in aquaponics is to produce large yields of multiple crops while using the least amount of outside resources as is possible. Depending on location and use of the system, there are multiple theoretical backgrounds behind these systems. According to Rakocy (1999) local conditions justified construction of a system developed at the University of the Virgin Islands more than 30 years ago. The Virgin Islands lack sufficient freshwater for pond culture, and most of the fish and vegetables consumed there are imported at extremely high costs. Due to the limited sources and adverse climatic conditions in Saudi Arabia freshwater is an expensive commodity (Al-Hafedh et al. 2008). There is an increasing demand in Saudi Arabia for fresh fish, but due to the expensive nature of freshwater, the development of aquaculture is slow. This makes the theoretical background for aquaponics in Saudi Arabia similar to that of the Virgin Islands. Further expansion of aquaculture in Saudi Arabia depends on the application of new technologies to intensify fish culture and to maximize water re-use (Al-Hafedh et al. 2008). Aquaponics systems are ideal in areas where soil is very poor (Hughey 2005). Aquaponics not only provides a sustainable source of fish; it also provides other sustainable advantages over traditional farming, hydroponics, and aquaculture. Current traditional techniques of farming use a lot of water. Aquaponics uses between 90-99% less water than the average traditional aquaculture methods (undrained levee ponds, watershed ponds, unaerated trough raceway, and mechanically aerated trough raceway.)
There are multiple reasons why recirculating aquacultural systems are advantageous over open pond culture. Recirculating systems maximize production using a limited quantity of water and land. The minimization of water exchange reduces operating costs (Rakocy 1999a). There is virtually complete environmental control of the system that permits for the maximization of fish development year round. These facilities can be built near markets. Harvesting of fish is convenient and efficient (Holliman et al. 2006). A major expense in aquacultural operations is fish feed. The feed accounts for 40 to 60 percent of total operating expenses (Holliman et al. 2006). Fish utilize about 30 to 35 percent of feed consumed for growth (Holliman et al. 2006). The remaining 65 to 70 percent becomes effluent. Integration of plant crops to the recirculating system changes the 65 to 70 percent nutrient enriched water from waste into food that will produce a secondary crop as well as improving the overall water quality of the system. This is advantageous for horticulturists using hydroponics as well. The addition of fish to their system allows for essential nutrients, which would normally have to be purchased, to be provided to their plant crops (Holliman et al. 2006).
Why bio-secure controlled environment agriculture has a place in commercial fish growing industry.
Biosecurity in aquaculture has been defined as ‘the measures and methods adopted to secure a disease free environment in all phases if aquaculture practices (i.e. hatcheries, nurseries, grow-out farms) for improved profitability’. Bio-security measures are vital to sustain healthy aquatic animals, to lowering the risk of acquiring diseases in aquaculture facilities and to harvest high quality products. This is important due to the world’s demands for high quality aquaculture products. The control of diseases is economically and environmentally important. Developing biosecure protocols will help to maintain the “security” of a facility (i.e. prevent entry of, or reduce overall numbers prior to entry) with respect to certain disease-causing organisms (parasites, bacteria, viruses, and fungi) that may not be present in a particular system. Common bio-security measures are; proper egg disinfection, control of vertical disease transmission, strict sanitation measures, traffic control, water treatments, effluent treatments, clean feed, disposal of mortalities, etc.
Biosecurity in aquaculture allows food producers to show consumers that food safety is their primary target. Economic models do not work when unsafe food is produced (i.e. recall of food products that have been identified as unsafe to human health due to bacterial infections, etc.). Biosecurity in aquaculture allows for economic prosperity by touching the bases of; environmental integrity, animal welfare, and food safety. (http://www.ncrac.org/NR/rdonlyres/2C878A92-8D58-4DCB-AAE0-C88A2F3A1152/96237/FS115Biosecurity.pdf)
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