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Aquaponics and The Blue Revolution

February 4, 2010

I admit I’m a bit of a book junkie, but I figure my habit is only endangering my health when the pile on my nightstand grows to a height that it threatens an accidental crushing death. So you can imagine my excitement when I heard that there was a chapter in the new book “Just Food” by James E. McWilliams devoted to aquaculture, and highlighting aquaponics! I contact my dealer, umm, I mean and had the book in hand by Tuesday. While I haven’t had time yet to read the entire book, I wanted to share with you the highlights from the chapter he titles “The Blue Revolution”, especially as they relate to aquaponics, and encourage you to get this book.

Aquaculture is the future – Jason Clay

After a great lead in quote, he starts the chapter by talking about the biological miracle of the gas bladder that enables a fish float. “The ability to float effortlessly negates the need to undertake such energy-hogging endeavors as standing, walking, and running. All these forms of mobility are internal energy sinks for terrestrial creatures, but not for fish. A fish is ecologically honed to translate the majority of its caloric intake into ample flesh that’s edible, usually tasty, rich in protein, and flush with heart-healthy oil.” He then asserts that this translation to food, if harnessed and managed well (responsible aquaculture), has the potential to actually improve the environment and generate more protein with fewer resources.

He then takes the reader through a litany of horrors related to commercial fishing

  • The FAO reported in 2004 that 75% of commercial fish stocks are “overused, collapsed, or in a state of repair”
  • Major fish stocks are on pace to completely collapse by 2048
  • Much of the problem is with bi-catch (aquatic life accidentally harvested by trawlers), rather than with the targeted fish itself
    • According to some estimates 85-95% of the fish caught by commercial fishermen is bi-catch
    • We end up eating only about 10% of all marine life that is killed in order to feed us.

His case well made for turning from the ocean to aquaculture, McWilliams explains that while aquaculture as an industry CAN be an ecologically sound alternative to commercial fishing, most aren’t.

  • Commercial aquaculture operations (especially salmon, shrimp and halibut) have fouled the environment in ways all to reminiscent of cattle feedlots (CAFOs)
  • Excessive use of antibiotics to reduce disease spawned by overcrowded tanks
  • In 2005 the New York Times reported that farmed fish “frequently escaped into the wild, creating a kind of genetic pollution”
  • The same article also noted that carnivorous species of fish are “fed protein from wild fish, a practice that does nothing to reduce our dependence on an overfished ocean”
  • The list goes on

Problem established, McWilliams then turns to the solution. He starts by reiterating the ecological and productivity advantages that floating protein has over terrestrial protein. He also points out that aquaculture operations can be “more easily incorporated into areas that are unsuited for other forms of food production” (I’m thinking of warehouses).

In his first mention of aquaponics he describes how an aquaponics system “can produce somewhere near 50,000 lbs of tilapia and 100,000 lbs of vegetables every year from a single acre of space. By contrast one grass-fed cow on “unimproved” land will need about 8 acres of grassland. Not only that, but the cow will have to occupy that land for about two years before it reaches slaughter weight, and then only about 50% of the beast will become marketable beef … Over the course of the year aquaponics will produce about 35,000 lbs of edible flesh per acre while the grass-fed operation will generate about 75 pounds per acre”


He follows with a series of wonderful examples of polyculture fish farming throughout the world, talks about which fish species are more sustainable than others, but ends the chapter again with aquaponics. The sub-chapter is entitled “Fish without Ponds + Vegetables Without Soil = the Future”. He takes the reader through some of the history of aquaponics, especially in this country, highlighting the work of Tom and Paula Speraneo, Dr. James Rakocy, and the Freshwater Institute. He concludes the chapter with this.

“Given the ecological and economic viability of aquaponics, food would be significantly more just if this unique form of aquaculture (aquaponics) became the future of floating protein”.

I couldn’t agree more.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Kim L. permalink
    February 6, 2010 9:01 am

    Very cool, Sly! Just adds to the belief that you’re definitely on to something!

  2. Olya permalink
    February 6, 2010 9:53 am

    You and I have the same dealer:) Love the blog!

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