The Best Fish For Your Aquaponics System
Determining the best fish for your system starts with whether you plan to harvest them for food, or as an ornamental fish such as a Koi. In this article we will go over the types you can raise in your aquaponics fish tank, and which ones are edible or not.
I’m a bit biased, but I feel the fish are the central component of an aquaponics system. After all, their left over feces is what ultimately winds up as nutrients for the vegetables we grow and put on our dinner table. Without the fish excrement, we would have to supply the nutrients ourselves such as synthetic fertilizers. That would eliminate the sustainable factor of our self sufficient system. Then we’d have to call it a Hydroponic system. Though this is a fish-less system, it’s still a wonderful setup for growing produce without depleting water and soil resources. More on this later.
Technically, this is how the aquaponic structure works: the waste of the fish is pumped out into the aquaponics grow beds, and then converted naturally into nutrients that are absorbed by the roots of plants being raised in a grow medium. In turn, the plants then clean the water symbiotically in a recirculating system.
How to Determine Which Fish Work Best
Choosing the best fish suitable for your aquaponics fish tank depends on a few factors:
- Do you want ornamental or edible fish in your aquaponics tank?
- Will you use freshwater or Saltwater fish types? Aquatic animals like fish, shrimp, crayfish and prawns, need specific water types as well as temperature ranges.
- Is it a home or commercial aquaponics system? Home systems come in sizes small as 3 gallon aquariums and on up to sizes that can fill a moderately sized backyard. Commercial aquaponics farms can take up acres of real estate and are becoming more popular as an alternative to soil-based farming.
Select a species of fish that will be readily available to purchase as a juvenile or fingerling fish. It is also possible to choose an adult fish.
Most of what we cover at aquaponicsgrowbed.com is relevant to home aquaponics gardens as opposed to commercial aquaponic systems that are more expensive and complex to build. Lets start with fish we want to harvest as food for our family.
The Best Edible Fish Suitable for Aquaponics
If fish are a main staple in your home’s menu, then the species you use in your aquaponics fish tank fall into one or more of the following list:
Large Mouth Bass
Tilapia Species for Aquaponics
The best tilapia species for aquaponic systems are those that are native to riverine habitats. Many grown in Aquaponic aquariums are found in African rivers and the Nile River Basin. In fact, up to 75 percent of the Tilapia’s grown in an aquaponic environment come from these 2 regions.
These two Nile Tilapia’s the Mozambique type, are two of the favored species, in part, because of their delicious white meat.
Tilapia may just be the most popular fish suitable for aquaponics , in part because of their speedy growth and appetizing source of protein. They feed on plant-based food such as algae and other organic materials, and won’t eat the other fish.
Since they adapt well to less then ideal water conditions and reproduce young fingerlings freely, they are a great choice for aquaponics beginners. Beware though, their quick breeding of four to six weeks can lead to a very crowded small aquaponics fish tank.
Fresh water Tilapia’s do need warm water conditions at or near to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Anything below 55° can be fatal.
For those who prefer Saltwater aquaponics fish, there are also species of Tilapia that can survive in saltwater.
Crappies for Aquaponics
Another popular edible fish for your aquaponic ecosystem are Crappies. Their white flesh is known for its delicious taste. They adapt very well in the enclosed environment of an aquaponics tank and tolerate cold climates.
They are native to most of North America living in fresh water habitats. The white and black species both range in size from 6 to 20 inches and up to 4 lbs. However, in the confined space of a fish tank, they will tend to grow to a weight of 1/2 lbs, give or take.
They will reproduce impressively but usually take up to 2 years before they are old enough to mate. Young Crappies feed on plankton then transition to a carnivorous diet as they grow. This includes insects and small crustaceans as well as minnow sized fish. However, be aware that before you put them in the same tank as your large mouth bass, these larger aquatic animals will prey on the Crappies.
More on What Fish Eat
Common Bluegill for Aquaponics
Bluegills are another exclusively freshwater aquaponic fish that can be a delicious addition to your menu come harvest time. This member of the the sunfish family is native to rivers, lakes, and streams of North America.
Since Bluegills aren’t tropical, they won’t require heated water. This makes them easier to raise then some other fish because they can grow in summer as well as winter conditions. Make adjustments to the water if the weather temperatures become too extreme.
Bluegills are omnivorous, eating everything from plants to insects and fingerlings. Be aware that Bluegills can be cannibalistic after the nesting period. Seven days after hatching (give or take), they will begin to eat their young if you don’t move the fry’s to another tank.
One of the characteristics that make the Coppernose Bluegill a favorable aquaponics fish, is that they adapt to pellet feed rather well. Like the Crappies, the young Blue Gills are prey to larger Aquaponic fish like bass and trout.
Trout are cold water fish suitable for aquaponics that do best in temperatures ranging from 50 to 68 degrees. They are good fish for aquaponics in that they have an exceptional food conversion ratio. But they do take awhile to mature- sometimes up to 16 months
They’re on our list of the best edible fish to grow in aquaponics systems because of their delicious taste, and they are loaded with protein and omega fatty acids.
Since they are carnivorous, you will need to feed them primarily insects, zooplankton, flies, dragonflies, etc. However when they grow to 11 inches long they will require a diet of small fish like minnows.
They are native to lakes, rivers and streams from North America to Asia and Europe.
Catfish for the Aquaponics Tank
Catfish are great for cooking with meat high in vitamin D, and so make an ideal edible fish suitable for aquaponics.
These fish range from small tropical species found in home aquariums, to the larger species often found in saltwater environments. The type that are best used in Aquaponics are those found in warm freshwater habitats such as lakes, ponds,and rivers of North America.
They grow rather quickly and require approximately 10 gallons per mature fish in an aquaponic tank. This means perhaps two times as much filtration and water flow as is recommended for smaller fish like Tilapia. Make sure to keep the pH at proper levels and temperatures near 80°.
Catfish are omnivorous bottom feeders, eating plants as well as insects and small fish, but are also able to adapt to fish pellets.
Silver Perch Aquaponics fish
Silver Perch along with, Golden Perch and Yellow Perch, are another popular edible fish suitable for aquaponics that provide healthy protein when grown as an aquatic animal for harvest. Some aquaponic gardeners don’t consider them very tasty “out of the box”, but that is easily alleviated by cooking with flavors like garlic and other seasoning.
Silver Perch are an Australian fish that have a wide environmental tolerance range. Although these aquatic animals can put up with cold conditions as low as 55 degrees Fahrenheit, they’ll thrive much better in warmer temperatures in the 70’s and can even tolerate up to 89°. If they are subject to cold conditions for too long, their growth will slow down drastically and they will not produce nutrients needed for the plants in the aquaponic grow beds.
Since they are so adaptable, Silver Perch are also ideal for aquaponics beginners. Be aware though that even though their diet is largely vegetarian, they are known to eat smaller fingerlings in the aquaponic tank. In fact they will eat many types of aquatic insects and even shrimp and small crustaceans. They are known to adapt to artificial diets in the form of pellets containing sufficient carbohydrates, fatty acids, and vitamins.
Their growth rate is much slower then other good fish suitable for aquaponics tanks. They can take up to 16 months to grow from fingerling to harvest size fish.
Largemouth Bass in Aquaponics
Largemouth as well as smallmouth and striped bass are considered to be favorable edible aquaponcs fish, but they do require cautious monitoring for temperature and pH levels. These are also freshwater aquatic animals and are popular game fish.
In a controlled environment of an aquaponics system, the largemouth bass meat is considered to have good taste, though stronger than most other fish.
Largemouth bass prefer temperatures of 82 to 84 degrees Fahrenheit and need to be closely monitored.
Bass are easy to find locally in most states for purchase which make them a good fish that’s suitable for aquaponics. Advantage of buying fingerlings is that they can be trained to eat pellet feed and they produce more nitrate waste for the plants early on in their growth stage. Downside is that they can take up to 18 months to mature.
A few more edible fish suitable for aquaponics systems
Barramundi, similar to Sea Bass, is another tasty aquaponics fish that lives in Fresh water and Saltwater
Sunfish Family of Fish
Ornamental non-eddible fish grown in Aquaponic Tanks
Koi in Your Aquaponics Tank
- Koi are a hybrid of Carp and make great fish suitable for aquaponics for several reasons.
- They are very durable and have a long life span from 40 to 60 years!
- Koi are very resistant to disease and common parasites
- These Fish are omnivorous and and have a wide variety of diet choices to feed them. This includes but is not limited to, algae, insects, zooplankton, and even veggies like lettuce, peas and watermelon.
- They excrete more waste matter nutrients than most fish
- Koi are readily found in most aquarium stores so easy to purchase.
- They are beautiful in appearance strikingly bright coloration.
Their freshwater temperatures should range from 59–77 °F. It is also important to monitor their temperature and oxygenation levels during cold winter periods.
Koi can be eaten but it isn’t recommended due to their boney flesh.
Raising freshwater shrimp in aquaponics
Shrimp are a great choice as aquatic animals to grow as an edible fish suitable for aquaponics. Of course they are technically crustaceans, but their worldwide popularity for delicious taste make them a great choice for your aquaponics fish tank.
Most Shrimps are freshwater aquatic animals and easier to grow then the salt water shrimps for beginners. Tropical warm water shrimp are best recommended for aquaponics and do best in waters ranging from 57–84 °F. They will mature from juvenile to harvest size in 4-5 months.
The bottom feeding Shrimps will devour dead plant debris and keep the Aquaponic tank clean. Keep in mind that many of the other aquaponics fish will eat the shrimp so you’ll need to provide a separate tank for them.
There are other closely related aquatic animals that do very well in an aquaponic tanks. These include Crayfish, Prawns, and even mussels.
For More Information go to Saltwater Aquaponics