Aquaponics startups in Europe are still struggling to be profitable

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By Milthon Lujan

Aquaponics has been cited by supranational entities as one of the most promising food production technologies, in terms of sustainability and efficiency.

The European aquaponics sector began to develop and become professional in the early 2010s; and although interest has increased in the academic field, concerns about its economic viability and sustainability of commercial production still persist.

A team of researchers from the University of Liège implemented a study that aimed to better define and assess the evolution of European aquaponic activities in professional structures (commercial entities, non-profit organizations (NPOs) and research and educational institutions) in terms of technical development and its economic viability.

They identified 140 professional aquaponic entities (non-profit, educational and commercial organisations) in Europe, which have an aquaponic system with more than 1 m3 of water. Of this universe, 46 responded to a survey on the technical and commercial aspects of their structures.

Location of aquaponics farms

According to the results of the study, of 140 structures identified in Europe, most of the activities took place in France (37.1%), Belgium (10.7%), Germany (7.8%) and the United Kingdom (7.8%) for a total of 25 countries.

Despite the promotion of the benefits of aquaponic systems in urban environments, the study highlights that 30.4% of aquaponics farms are located in the urban environment, 34.8% in the peri-urban environment and another 34.8% in the area. rural.

Design, production and techniques

In terms of production area, aquaponics facilities ranged from 8 m2 to 14,000 m2. According to the researchers, the most common sizes, in terms of area, were 100-499 m2 (32.6%), 500-1999 m2 (26.1%), and 0-99 m2 (21.7%).

In addition, 30.4% of the aquaponic systems were coupled, 37% were uncoupled, and 32.6% were hybrid systems. The researchers highlight the increase in decoupled systems compared to previous studies, and indicate that it could be due to their advantages in terms of risk management and increased production.

Business model

“The data collected in this study do not show clear trends in companies’ business models and reflect the diverse nature of the production systems themselves. There is a high degree of variability within markets depending on the nature, size, and location of commercial aquaponics farms,” the researchers report.

According to the study, the two communication channels of the producers were direct communication (“face to face”) and “word of mouth”, which was of high importance for 77.8% and 63% of those surveyed, respectively.

“Among social networks, Facebook had a certain predominance, but others such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram were underrepresented,” they report.

Likewise, 63% of the respondents stated that the aquaponics farm made a profit in the last 12 months.

Success factors and challenges

The researchers asked aquaculture producers to identify the top three success factors and top three challenges facing their companies.

The main success factors identified by the respondents were: production knowledge and techniques (64%), business model (44%) and stakeholder involvement (28%).

The top two challenges were overall production (52.9%) and successful business models (47.1%).

Greater professionalization of the sector

“Compared to previous surveys, a much higher number of entities had larger systems (up to 14,000 m2), with higher returns, while 59% of them declared profits,” they report.

However, according to the researchers, this reveals a clear expansion and professionalization of the sector, which was found to be highly diversified, with systems that varied greatly in size, design, and technology.

In addition, they highlight that the business models and activities were generally diverse and included a combination of production, education and/or services.

The fight for profitability

According to the researchers: “At the time of the survey, the aquaponics sector was still struggling to find its economic viability, since the business model of most entities was not only based on the sale of fish and vegetables, but also relied heavily on free labor through volunteers or internships.”

In addition, the acquisition of knowledge, as well as the optimization of production and business models, were perceived as the main challenges for the sustained growth of the sector.


According to the study there is a clear need to increase training, continue research and development work, and create public support systems for aquaponics farms to further improve and expand the commercialization of aquaponics in Europe.

Likewise, the researchers highlight that the main conclusions of their study on European aquaponics are:

  • It’s getting more professional,
  • It is a very small sector, but diversified,
  • Different strategies are being investigated to find economic viability.

The study was funded by the ERDF (“European Regional Development Fund”) and the Walloon Region through the Interreg programs Smart Aquaponics.

Reference (free access):
Raulier, Pierre, François Latrille, Nicolas Ancion, Marjane Kaddouri, Nathalie Crutzen, and M. Haïssam Jijakli. 2023. “Technical and Business Evaluation of Professional Aquaponics in Europe” Water 15, no. 6: 1198. https://doi.org/10.3390/w15061198

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