Using fish in an aquaponics system feeds two sources: plants and humans. The fish provide the bacterial-rich effluent that converts into plant food, and humans consume a hearty diet of fish for a protein-rich diet. A small cohort of fish grown aquaponically could be made up of 80 fish in a 300 gallon tank. Those 80 fish could provide enough nutrients to grow 3,100 heads of lettuce and 505 lbs of tomatoes in a single year, depending on grow space and the media being used. That is a conservative representation of the potential abundance an aquaponic system could produce. Unfortunately, global or domestic data on the number of fish harvested aquaponically is still unanswered.
1989 was the year global fishing reached its highest yield: 90 million metric tons of fish were caught from industrial fishing fleets. Those numbers have either stagnated or declined since then. In 2003, data began to pour in that suggested the number of large, edible ocean fish had been reduced to 10% of their pre-industrial population. Inside those numbers, 35% of fish caught are wasted, either thrown back (deceased) into the sea or left to rot before they reach the marketplace.
Recently, developed countries have been operating outside of their own ocean waters and have secretly ventured into densely populated and diverse waters belonging to smaller, more vulnerable countries. China consumes more fish than any other country. That means they fish more than any other country. Due to this demand, China has over fished and depleted their own waters. Now they’re sailing to South America. Up to this date in 2022, Chinese fishing vessels have collectively fished for the equivalent of 16,000 days. That alarming scale has local and global economies protesting China’s off-shore entitlement.
Data for 2022 is through May 31. Source: The New York Times
Overfishing leads to several devastating consequences: disrupting balances in the ocean’s biological system, accidental catching of unintended species(sea turtles, dolphins, sharks, birds), and weakening coral reefs by eliminating algae-eating species. At the current rates, global fisheries will be depleted or collapsed by 2048.
There is hope, however. There is a consensus amongst scientists that fish populations can be restored with stricter management and law enforcement. Reducing the number of harmful government subsidies to the fishing industry could help reverse these trends. And this is where aquaponics is in dire need of being recognized as an industry by the global governments. Right now, aquaponics is not considered an industry, although its counterpart hydroponics is. The potential to have government subsidies redirected from ocean fisheries to aquaponic fish culturing is there, aquaponics just needed clearer defining and visible advocacy.
Distinguishing between hydroponics and aquaponics would increase the amount of light shed on aquaculture, the farm raising of fish. Inside of an aquaponics system, the environment surrounding the fish culture is controlled, so the number of pathogens and contaminants are reduced. Right now, aquaponics doesn’t have clear representation on a government policy platform. Data collection on the number of aquaponic fish harvests is needed, as is research into the cost-effectiveness of aquaculture on both small and large scale operations. Lack of data and representation is not enough, however, to deter advancement in the aquaponic and aquaculture industries. The only question is, will public representation show up in time?