Aquaponic gardens will play a key part in ensuring long term human survival, and they have proven to be a successful business model. The combination of aquaculture and hydroponics is a holistic solution to burgeoning seafood, agricultural, and water shortages. Sustainable solutions are becoming more important to consumers. Aquaponic gardening uses substantially less water than either hydroponic or aquaculture systems, which are not integrated perpetually recirculating systems. Aquaponic business models have proven to be profitable, thus solidifying the potential for rapid expansion, especially in light of recent and forthcoming seafood supply issues due to the catastrophe in the Gulf. This paper offers supporting production and profit numbers to show that these businesses are capable of being quite successful. Every business has consumers, who will ask, “But is it safe?” That question is answered definitively; both the produce and the fish are considered established methods which are safe for consumers.
Aquaponic farming is going to play a key role in human survival, and is poised for business growth. Why does aquaponic matter? “When it comes to seafood production, the United States is at a crossroads. Study after study confirms the health benefits of eating seafood, and consumers in America and abroad have gotten the message. Meanwhile, wild catch levels worldwide have remained relatively stable over the last 20 years. Because wild harvests can no longer keep up with growing demand, increases in the seafood supply will come from aquaculture.” (Hogarth, 2009). “In 1950, about 20 million tons of fish were harvested globally, with nearly all of that catch coming from wild stocks in oceans, bays, lakes, and rivers. In the five decades since then, the world’s population has tripled. Today, seafood production stands at 130 million tons per year, with one quarter of that total coming from aquaculture.” (Kite-Powell, 2006). Aquaculture is the raising of fish in a controlled environment, when combined with growing plants hydroponically; we arrive at the recently coined term, but ancient human practice of aquaponics, a recirculating system. “Recirculating systems are designed to raise large quantities of fish in relatively small volumes of water by treating the water to remove toxic waste products and then reusing it.” (Rakocy, 2006). Thus there is a symbiotic relationship between the plants and the fish, the plants utilize bacterial byproducts of the fish waste, and the plants detoxify the water for the fish. With the current focus on sustainable and green, this model fits well into helping ensure the long term survival of the species. It shows a reduced environmental impact as compared to wild seafood, both in terms of transportation and helping conserve wild seafood stock. Aquaponics also reduces the environmental impact of fish farming, which has garnered negative press mainly due to pollution problems. “Aquaponic systems require substantially less water quality monitoring than separate hydroponic or recirculating aquaculture systems. Savings are also realized by sharing operational and infrastructural costs such as pumps, reservoirs, heaters and alarm systems. In addition, the intensive, integrated production of fish and plants requires less land than ponds and gardens.” (Rakocy, 2006).
One of the most important business questions is simply, “is there a demand for this product?” To answer that here are one expert’s opinions, “To meet worldwide seafood demand, it is projected that aquaculture production will have to increase sevenfold, from 11 to 77 million metric tons by the year 2025.” (Wirth, 2004). “Global seafood demand is expected to grow by 70% in the next 35 years as the global population increases. At the same time, worldwide wild catches of many fish species are declining or have leveled off at maximum sustainable yield.” (Wirth, 2004). When the right plants and fish are selected and used, it has systematically shown to be a profitable business model. The question regarding the viability of the business model has been repeatedly answered, “…successes to date of aquaculture-related businesses demonstrate direct economic benefits from an increase in domestic aquaculture production.” (Hogarth, 2009 – my italics). How does it work? “…The goal is to culture a vegetable that will generate the highest level of income per unit area per unit time. With this criterion, culinary herbs are the best choice. They grow very rapidly and command high market prices…For example, …basil production was 11,000 pounds annually at a value of $110,000, compared to okra production of 6,400 pounds annually at a value of $6,400…the data indicate that culinary herbs in general can produce a gross income more than 20 times greater than that of fruiting crops such as tomatoes and cucumbers.” (Rakocy, 2006) “The optimum yield came from a ratio of 1.9 lettuce plants to 1 fish. One pound (0.45 kg) of feed per day was appropriate to feed 33 lb (15 kg) of tilapia fingerlings, which sustained 189 lettuce plants and produced nearly 3,300 heads of lettuce annually.” (Korstad, 2003). “The enterprise budget for tilapia and lettuce shows that the annual return …(profit) for six production units is US$185,248. Local production capitalizes on the high price of imports caused by transportation costs. Locally produced lettuce is also fresher than imported lettuce…it indicates that aquaponic systems can be profitable.” (Rakocy, 2006). With the loss of the Gulf Coast of Louisiana as a seafood source, America’s seafood supply is about to dwindle and the market will respond with higher pricing. While the exact returns will be determined by the market, it is easy to predict that the price for fresh seafood will rise sharply in the near future. The stage is set for domestic aquaculture business to experience dynamic growth.
Finally, in responding to the consumer acceptance and food safety questions, the following defense of aquaculture. “Food safety is another issue. U.S. consumers want to know that their seafood was produced in a safe and sustainable way, and many turn to local products when given a choice. Producing seafood locally allows us to test and develop new technologies, equipment and alternative feeds. This makes us more competitive in the global market and allows us to lead by example-our sustainable production will encourage our trading partners to adopt best management practices, thereby improving the quality of all seafood reaching U.S. consumers.” (Hogarth, 2009). According to Dr. Nick Savidov, in a prepared report for Canadian Aquaculture, “The marketing study demonstrated acceptance of aquaponically-grown vegetables by consumers. Food safety involved extensive sampling …it showed no potential for hazard of health.” (2005). Thus the safety of current practices shows consumer acceptance of aquaponic fish and produce.
Consumers will continue to purchase seafood, and aquaponics can helps provide both food and sustainable integrity. The combination of aquaculture and hydroponics is a proven solution to survival issues our race must deal with directly. Aquaponic gardening does not interfere in any way with wild fish stocks, and also produces vegetables. “We’ve done a good job managing America’s marine resources, but even the best-managed wild fisheries can’t meet the growing demand for seafood. Aquaculture must fill the gap-the only question is, where will it come from?” (Hogarth, 2009). The definitive answer is anywhere and everywhere that independent entrepreneurs wish to start them. Aquaponics is accepted by consumers who already eat a vast range of farmed seafood products, and are savvy enough to understand the importance of eating local foods. With an easily marketable product, and proven business model success, aquaponic gardening is poised for growth in visibility and demonstrated profitability with a conscience.
Hogarth, W. T. (2009). Aquaculture Will Fill the Gap in the Seafood Supply. Opposing Viewpoints: Endangered Oceans. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2009. Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. Gale. ITT Educational Services. Retrieved on: 23 May 2010. Retrieved from: .
Kite-Powell, H. L. (2006). Fish Farms Are Necessary to Feed a Growing Population. At Issue: Is Factory Farming Harming America?. Ed. Stuart A. Kallen. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2006. Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. Gale. ITT Educational Services. Retrieved on: 23 May 2010. Retrieved from: .
Korstad, J. (2003) Hydroponics. Environmental Encyclopedia. 3rd ed. Detroit:Gale, 2003. Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. ITT Educational Services. Retrieved on: 23 May 2010. Retrieved from: .
Rakocy, J.E., Masser, M.P., Losordo, T.M. (2006)Recirculating Aquaculture Tank Production Systems: Aquaponics-Integrating Fish and Plant Culture Southern Regional Aquaculture Center: SRAC Publication No. 454. November 2006 Revision. Retrieved on: 23 May 2010. Retrieved from: .
Savidov, N. (2005). Evaluation and Determination of Aquaponics Production and Product Capabilities in Alberta. Phase II. Aquaculture Collaboration Research and Development Program, Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Retrieved on: 25 May 2010. Retrieved from:
Wirth, F. F., Luzar, E. J. (2004). Alternatives to Government Regulation Will Promote the Growth of Aquaculture. Opposing Viewpoints: Endangered Oceans. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2004. Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. Gale. ITT Educational Services. Retrieved on: 23 May 2010. Retrieved from: