Fish! The Sustainable Animal Protein Swims To The Forefront

A portable aquaponics system with watercress

Portable Aquaponics System Growing Watercress

Aquaponics isn’t exactly a brand new idea, which is why is baffles me that it isn’t being used everywhere, like right now. Aquaponics has the potential to bring fish and vegetables in a sustainable way for the entire world, and no that isn’t hyperbolie. Aquaponics is the practice of growing fish and vegetables in a water recirculating closed sustainable system. This been long done in many developing countries and the notion is simple. The fish live in tanks or ponds that are connected to beds of plants that are ‘rooted’ often in gravel. The water is recirculated through the system. The fish poo gives the plants the nitrogen that they need through the ammonia that is in fish poo, the plants in return clean the water for the fish. Any byproduct like algae or decomposing fish feed can be used as fertilizer.

“Over the course of a year, aquaponics will generate about 35,000 pounds of edible flesh per acre while the grass-fed operation will generate about 75 pounds per acre.” Says James McWilliams in Just Food. I read that sentence 3 times, because those numbers are stunning. The implication is that an acre of land dedicated to growing animal protein is most efficiently used to grow fish whether they are in a tank or a pond, hands down. That’s only one half of the equation. The other half of the equation is that a farmer can get anywhere from 45-70 pounds of vegetables per pound of fish. Wait what? Yea, exactly the reaction I had.

So why isn’t everyone doing this? Well, a lot of people are, more and more commercial sized aquaponic farms are being to crop up. Chris Newman in California saw an opportunity when he noticed greenhouses that used to house nurseries that grew flowers for the cut flower business  sitting empty and converted a 14,000 square foot space into a aquaponic farm. Suburban gardeners  all over the word are also turning to this method.

Though aquaponics is a relatively new idea here in the U.S. and new food source ideas move slowly in this country given the stranglehold of BigAg, what we can do to encourage this type of farming is not only to put one in every yard (wishful thinking I know) but try to eat fish from these places, and you may be already if you buy farmed fish. Demanding only safely farmed fishes and not buying fish on the red list, or next to the red label in Whole Foods, no matter what the recipe says will encourage purveyors to not even purchase unethically caught fish.

A short list of thumbs up fish are catfish all of which is domestically grown for us, farmed shellfish which promote biodiversity by cleaning the water, to the tune of hundreds of millions of gallons a day as well as helping other sea creatures grow, farmed trout and US grown tilapia, which is sometimes grown with catfish. Of course, eating non-farmed fish that is harvested responsibly gets a thumbs up as well. For a more comprehensive list go to the Environmental Defense Fund where they even pair fish with recipes! A nice byproduct of eating this way is that I found that many of the fish on the list were less expensive as well.

Anyone want to give me a backyard? I’m dying to set one of these aquaponic systems up. Think how happy my sous chef would be.

Sous Chef Checking Wine Pairing

Sous Chef Checking Wine Pairing

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