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Sustainable aquaculture: EU supports promising aquaponics project

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By Milthon Lujan

The world has a growing appetite for fish and seafood. For biodiversity and stock preservation reasons, this demand cannot be satisfied by fisheries alone. This is where aquaculture comes into play, but conventional fish farming has its own built-in challenges. An EU-funded aquaponics project aims to address some of these.

The EU has a strategy for a sustainable food system, known as Farm2Fork. A central objective is to increase European aquaculture production in a way that is respectful of the environment. Traditional aquaculture is associated with the risk of eutrophication (an excess of nutrients in the water), in turn leading to altering natural ecosystems. An ongoing research project at the Jyväskylä University of Applied SciencesSearch for available translations of the preceding link is looking for answers to eutrophication, based on indoor aquaponics farming.

Aquaponics is a method that integrates the recirculating aquaculture system (RAS) and hydroponics (the technique of growing plants without soil) in one production system. In aquaponics units, water from the fish tanks is recirculated through filters to feed beds of plants, and then back to the fish tanks. The great advantage of aquaponic farming is that it enables the plants to recover dissolved waste nutrients from fish tanks, thus reducing both water use and discharges to the environment.

Central Finland FLAGSearch for available translations of the preceding link funded a feasibility study, small-scale laboratory testing and the construction of a pilot plant to develop and monitor the performance of the system.

Aquaponics farming is an exciting and developing sector of aquaculture which provides an opportunity to save our environment along with providing high-quality local food products like fish and vegetables. The method requires 85% less water than traditional agricultural and fish farming practices, and the fish and plants are raised in a controlled environment,” says Project Specialist Faiqa Atique, of the Institute of BioeconomySearch for available translations of the preceding link.

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The remarkable advantage of aquaponics method is that it is self-sustaining and that fish and plants develop a symbiotic relationship, where plants are cleaning the fish waste and fish are feeding nutrients to the plants. By not using soil, growing plants underwater takes less effort and is much faster, as the plants are getting the necessary nutrients continuously with recirculating water.

So far, the project has tested the method with rainbow trout, while growing mint and spinach, mainly focusing on water quality, fish growth, plant growth, system maintenance and reducing the environmental load of nutrients. The third phase of the project from 2022 will aim at scaling up the aquaponics system to create a profitable, environmentally friendly and innovative business model for rural areas, where old or abandoned agricultural facilities could be harnessed for new business development.

Growing world population and global food demand will require increased production in the coming decades. At the same time, humanity faces the challenges of protecting the environment and dealing with climate change.

Climate change is affecting the yield of agriculture, aquaculture and fisheries. Conventional fish farming needs large quantities of water and can cause water pollution. Aquaponics is a promising method in overcoming these challenges: it offers an alternative protein and crop production method while minimizing the environmental impact, doesn’t depend on seasonality and doesn’t require soil occupation.

The European Union is on the frontline of the fight for biodiversity preservation and climate change remediation. This project, funded under the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF), contributes towards these objectives.

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Source: Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries

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