Aquaponics Industry

  • History
  • Modern Aquaponics
  • How many systems are there?
  • Domestic / Small-Scale
  • Semi-Commercial and Commercial Aquaponics
  • Urban
  • Rooftop
  • Developing Countries
  • Church
  • Shipping Containers
  • Detention Facilities
  • Schools and Education
  • Civic Partnerships
  • EU Aquaponics Hub
  • Aquaponics in Washington, DC
  • Hawaii
  • United Arab Emirates

Using fish waste as fertilizer for crops is an ancient practice. The most well-known examples are the “stationary islands” set up in shallow lakes in central America (e.g., Aztec’s Chinampas 1150–1350 BC), and the introduction of fish into paddy rice fields in South-East Asia about 1500 years ago. (Rinehart, 2010)

Modern Aquaponics
In modern times aquaponics emerged from the aquaculture industry as fish farmers were exploring methods of raising fish while trying to decrease their dependence on the land, water and other resources. In the 1970s research on using plants as a natural filter began, most notably by Dr. James Rakocy at the University of the Virgin Islands and researchers at North Carolina State University. The first large scale commercial aquaponics facility, Bioshelters in Amherst, MA, was established in the mid-1980s, and it is still in operation today. Popularization of aquaponics has grown steadily through the past decade with the most noteworthy champion being MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” award winner Will Allen of Growing Power, who has integrated aquaponics into his ultra-productive, 2 acre urban farm in Milwaukee. In September, 2011, the first annual Aquaponics Association Conference was held in Orlando, FL. 255 people came from all over the world to meet each other, learn about aquaponic developments, and create the new Aquaponics Association. (

How many aquaponic systems are there?
In 2010, one expert estimated that between 800 and 1,200 home aquaponic systems and 1,000 school aquaponic systems existed in the United Sates; however, no peer-reviewed published studies have attempted to confirm or refine this estimate. To our knowledge, aquaponics has not been part of the comprehensive census of US commercial aquaculture or agriculture performed by the US Department of Agriculture. Therefore, major gaps exist in our knowledge of who is practicing aquaponics and where these facilities exist. (Love, et al 2014)

In 2012, there were 21 states that reported at least one aquaponics farm [to the USDA; USDA-NASS 2013], with a total of 71 aquaponics farms reported across the United States. In 2012, Florida had the most aquaponics farms (20%), followed by Wisconsin (10%), Arizona (8%), New York (8%), and Hawaii (7%). The average size of an aquaponics farm was largest in Hawaii (4,741 gallons), followed by Arizona (3,208 gallons), and then Wisconsin (2,004 gallons). The aquaponics farms in Florida were much smaller, with an average size of 537 gallons. (Engle, 2015)

Aquaponic systems ranged in size over five orders of magnitude, from indoor countertop systems to the largest commercial system built on 1.9 hectarces (4.6 acres) of land. The average aquaponic system was designed by the respondent and housed on his/her property either indoors or in a greenhouse. The average system contained 500 gallons of water and took up 15 square meters [161 feet] of space. (Love, et al 2014)

Domestic/small-scale aquaponics
Aquaponic units with a fish tank size of about 1,000 litres [264 gallons] and growing space of about 3 square meters [32 square feet] are considered small-scale, and are appropriate for domestic production for a family household. Units of this size have been trialled and tested with great success in many regions around the world. The main purpose of these units is food production for subsistence and domestic use, as many units can have various types of vegetables and herbs growing at once. In the past five years, aquaponic groups, societies and forums have developed considerably and served to disseminate advice and lessons learned on these small-scale units. (Somerville et al, 2014)

Semi-Commercial and Commercial Aquaponics
Owing to the high initial start-up cost and limited comprehensive experience with this scale, commercial and/or semi-commercial aquaponic systems are few in number. Many commercial ventures have failed because the profits could not meet the demands of the initial investment plan. Most of those that do exist use monoculture practices, typically the production of lettuce or basil. Although many academic institutes in the United States of America, Europe and Asia have constructed large units, most have been for academic research rather than food production, and are not intended or designed to compete with other producers in the private sector. There are several successful farms throughout the world. (Somerville et al, 2014)

Nelson and Pade out of Wisconsin offers prefabricated aquaponic systems. The advertisement reads: “If you are planning a commercial aquaponics venture, our patented Clear Flow Aquaponic Systems® with ZDEP® are the only fully-developed, complete system packages available for large scale aquaponic food production. They include the equipment, manuals, documentation and support you need to get into and be successful in the aquaponics business.” (Nelson and Pade)

Urban Aquaponics
In a former shoe warehouse on 96th and Cottage Grove, Chicago State University professor Emmanuel Pratt has turned a former shoe warehouse into an urban farm focusing on aquaponics. Recycling is key to the entire enterprise. Used Mountain Dew bottles help water flow into plants. Old shoe racks have been rebuilt to hold classroom easels for teaching. The aquaponics center can harvest up to 30,000 pounds of fish a year, much of it ending up in local restaurants or donated. But this once-vacant building is more than just a fish distributor or biology lab for college students. “It’s not ultimately about just growing some food. It’s about using the food and the technique and tool of urban ag and aquaponics as an organizing tool in an area that is systemically and systematically disconnected,” Pratt says. By disconnected, Pratt means from the larger economy. The facility is located where the neighborhoods of Pullman and Roseland meet — both are struggling with unemployment and economic development. Relying on his background in graphic design and architecture, Pratt is flipping the idea of 20th century zoning codes on its head. Dance groups practice here. Community groups hold meetings. There’s been a pop-up art gallery. Sometimes people who just need some carpentry work will drop by. Pratt hopes the aquaponics center will help people in the surrounding community — who are part of the informal economy — plug into the global economy. (WBEZ News)

One of the most famous Aquaponics ventures in the U.S. is a Wisconsin nonprofit called Growing Power. On its 2 acre Milwaukee farm, Growing Power uses aquaponics and other farming methods to produce food for the community. Growing Power was founded by Will Allen, a former professional basketball player. He was awarded the McArther Genius Grant in 2008, and was one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2010 for his urban agriculture work.

Pentair, a publicly-traded UK-based company; and Urban Organics, LLC, which has a large-scale indoor aquaponics farm in St. Paul, Minn., announced a new collaboration to accelerate the development of commercial scale modern aquaponics. Initially, the venture will establish and operate an 87,000-square-foot indoor aquaponics facility in the former Schmidt’s brewery building in St. Paul. This will be one of the largest commercial aquaponics facilities in the world and will have the potential to annually produce 275,000 lbs. of fresh char, salmon, or trout, and 400,000 lbs. of organically grown produce, including hydroponic basil, mint, kale, chard, lettuce, and watercress. Construction plans for the new facility are underway in anticipation of harvesting the first produce and fish by summer 2016. Recently, Pentair announced the opening of its Pentair Aquatic Eco-Systems’ World Aquaculture Technology Engineering & Research Center of Excellence in Apopka, Florida. The center, which consists of 12,400-square-feet of laboratories and fish culture systems, is used for demonstration, research and teaching activities. Built to allow full connectivity to the Internet, customers and educational institutions are able to monitor online the progress of fish culture trials, including water quality, feeding, feed conversion ratios, growth rates, energy consumption and harvesting activities. “Aquaculture and aquaponics have the potential to help the world meet its growing need for protein, and we have the technologies and expertise to help grow the industry while sustainably producing food with less waste, energy and water,” states Randall J. Hogan, Pentair Chairman and CEO. “The collaboration with Urban Organics is one more step in our efforts to help this new industry bring healthy food to developing countries, arid climates and spacechallenged urban centers.” (Reuters)

The world’s first commercial rooftop aquaponics farm was launched in Basel, Switzerland in 2012. It cost $900,000 to build and occupies just 26 square meters [280 square feet]. Ranka Junge of Zhaw Zurich University stated “In Basel there is 2,000,000m² of vacant rooftop space. If 5% of this rooftop space were used for aquaponics, that is 100,000m², which could feed 34,000 people or contribute 8-20% of the fresh fish and vegetable consumption in Basel.” (sustinable cities collective)

Edenworks, a startup in Brooklyn, New York constructs rooftop aquaponic greenhouses. Edenworks believes technology can put people closer to their nutrition and consumers will be better off for it. The company has a new facility opening in Long Island that will be 9,000 square feet, making it roughly eleven times the footprint of the first greenhouse. (

Aquaponics in Developing Countries
With the advent of highly efficient aquaponic systems, there has been an interest in discovering how the concept fares in developing countries. Examples of aquaponic initiatives can be seen in Barbados, Brazil, Botswana, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guatemala, Haiti, India, Jamaica, Malaysia, Mexico, Nigeria, Panama, the Philippines, Thailand and Zimbabwe. At first glance, there appears to be a considerable amount of aquaponic activity within the humanitarian sphere. In addition, small-scale aquaponic units are components of some urban or peri-urban agriculture initiatives, particularly with non-governments organizations and other stakeholders in urban food and nutrition security, because of their ability to be installed in many different urban landscapes. In particular, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has piloted small-scale aquaponic units on rooftops in The West Bank and Gaza Strip– in response to the chronic food and nutrition security issues seen across the region. To date, this pilot project and subsequent scale-up are one of a growing number of examples around the world where aquaponics is being successfully integrated into medium-scale emergency food security interventions. However, many attempts are ad hoc and opportunistic, in many cases leading to stand-alone, lowimpact interventions, so caution should be used when evaluating the success of humanitarian aquaponics. (Somerville et al, 2014)

MorningStar Fishermen constructs aquaponic system abroad. “It is the mission of Morning Star Fishermen to teach people how to provide for themselves in a sustainable and environmentally responsible manner. Rather than relying on hand-outs which only feed them for one day and makes them dependent upon the donor. People need to learn how to provide for themselves and their loved ones in a sustainable and inexpensive way, adding dignity and independence to their lives.” Their website boasts an impressive list of systems they have helped build in Africa, South America, and the Carribean. (

Aquaponics at Church
MorningStar Fishermen recently constructed a 13,000 gallon aquaponics system at the River Church in Tampa, Florida.

Canyon View Vineyard Church, in Colorado, has a system installed and operated by Church grounds manager and garden coordinator Rick Kenagy. It has a 12-by-4 feet gow bed that has grown tomatoes, squash, eggplants, taro, lettuce, beets, onions and basil. The fish are housed in a 175 gallon tank, which will eventually hold 30 pounds of mature fish. “‘We want to provide a community model of food growing that can be transferable to other parts of the community, across the country and to third-world countries,’ Kenagy said. The church also plans to help people in Sudan, Afghanistan, Haiti and Thailand set up aquaponics systems, Kenagy said. ‘Our hope is to put community training systems together where people can come to learn to grow food and also build a sustainable income by selling food,’ he said.” (

Shipping Containers
UDC has an aquaponics system in a shipping container at its urban farm at the Capitol Heights Metro Station. These units are becoming more popular.

A London-based group has an aquaponics shipping container model: “The GrowUp Box is an upcycled shipping container with a greenhouse on top which is a highly productive demonstration of aquaponic urban agriculture. We built the first GrowUp Box thanks to an incredible group of more than 300 supporters who helped us raise over £16,500 through a Kickstarter crowd-funding initiative…In the shipping container, we farm tilapia. Tilapia is an omnivorous white fish which taste great. We farm the tilapia at the right stocking density so they have enough room and are in a comfortable sized shoal that means their stress levels are kept low and we can ensure that we are producing the best tasting fish. Inside the greenhouse, using vertical growing techniques, we can grow 400 salads and herbs at any one time as well as producing delicious microgreens. During the summer we were harvesting an average of 8kg of salad from the box on a weekly basis and selling it to local restaurants.” (

Aquaponics at Detention Facilities
The federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana has an aquaponics facility to enable inmates to grow their own food and to teach inmates farm science skills. “Officials with the Federal Correctional Complex estimate they’ve saved taxpayers about $130,000 in produce costs this year through a program that combines on-site food production with education.” Inmates have grown cucumbers, zucchinis, lettuces, peppers, onions, watermelon, potatoes and other produce on a 17-acre site. (

Morning Star Fishermen went to Pasco Regional Juvenile Detention Center and assembled a 300 gallon floating raft aquaponic gardening system. To help get it started, MSF supplied JDC with 25 Blue Tilapia, herbs, lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, and other plants. MSF donated delivery and setup of the system, and training, which included letting the juvenile inmates participate in the set up of the system. MSF’s Executive Director, Phil Reasons, returned to teach two classes in JDC’s classroom. During the classes, the students asked many questions and were interested in benefiting from this style of living after they were released. (

The Pendleton Juvenile Correction Facility in Indiana uses hands-on learning via aquaponics to enhance education of 12 – 19 year old boys at this maximum security prison. Horticulture teacher Phillip Greenburg noted “besides teaching horticulture, I am teaching the students how to be a reliable and desirable employee. The real benefit of the aquaponics program that I see is that the boys take pride in what they are doing.” (Nelson & Pade)

In 2015, San Francisco County Jail in San Bruno, CA installed an aquaponic system “intended to teach inmates skills both applicable in their pursuit of their high school diplomas and transferable to a new and burgeoning field of environmentally sustainable farming.” One of the inmates said “The class is great. We get to come outside and get fresh air. We get to get our hands dirty and, besides, I need the credits.” Another said “This class is very important. Once I’m released I can go back to college and make this my profession. This is a great deal for me.” (SF Gate)

Schools and Education
Small-scale aquaponic units are being championed in various educational institutes including, primary and secondary schools, colleges and universities, special and adult education centres, as well as community-based organizations. Aquaponics is being used as a vehicle to bridge the gap between the general population and sustainable agricultural techniques, including congruent sustainable activities such as rainwater harvesting, nutrient recycling and organic food production, which can be integrated within the lesson plans. Moreover, this integrated nature of aquaponics provides hands-on learning experience of wide-ranging topics such as anatomy and physiology, biology and botany, physics and chemistry, as well as ethics, cooking, and general sustainability studies. (Somerville et al, 2014)

A garage sale arrortment of equipment inspired Clare Kennedy, a HS biology teacher at Bergen County Academies, to embark on an aquaponics endeavor that serves as a multidisciplinary project combining environmental engineering and computer software savvy. Students use mathematics to design the system and elbow-grease to get it up and running. They use their knowledge of zoology and botany to care for the fish and plants. The hands-on use of equipment includes the tank, filters, aerators, heaters, balances, pumps and air compressors. Chemical analysis of the water introduces the students to the use of water quality test kits. The project culminates with the students creating data-based spreadsheets and a website that displays their efforts and results. (Nelson and Pade)

Teacher Devon Williams (J.P. McConnel Middle School, Georgia) uses aquaonics to teach the bio-related technology portion his curriculum. Students track the quality of the water and plant growth and make decisions about what steps to take to correct any problems that arise and they create graphs to show the changes in the system over time. (Nelson and Pade)

SchoolGrown is an organization in San Francisco that builds and operates classroom-sized aquaponic greenhouses for schools and communities. Their mission: “SchoolGrown is dedicated to promoting sustainable agriculture, savvy water use, and resource conservation through advocacy, education, research and service.” (

“SchoolGrown was started last year by a group of like-minded aquaponics enthusiasts who felt that students weren’t getting enough hands-on experiences growing food and learning about their connection to the world around them. The organization now hosts monthly workshops for adults and field trips for kids. They have a group of committed volunteers who help maintain their aquaponics system and harvest the produce. They even treated me to a delicious lunch during my visit: a freshly picked salad and catfish from their tanks. But their big focus now is on spreading aquaponics systems to schools around the country and teaching sustainable agricultural practices.” (PBS Newshour)

Civic Partnerships
Keene’s (NH) city officials are partnering with an organization called the Local Farms Project with plans to construct a 1-acre greenhouse and a recirculating aquaculture system on the grounds of the closed Keene Landfill. Once it is fully operational, the Keene Energy and Agriculture Project is expected to produce 500,000 pounds of fresh lettuce and herbs and 66,000 pounds of live tilapia for local grocery wholesalers each year. (climatewire)

European Union Aquaponics Hub
Aquaponics has a key role to play in food provision and tackling global challenges such as water scarcity, food security, urbanization, and reductions in energy use and food miles. The EU acknowledges these challenges through its Common Agriculture Policy and policies on Water Protection, Climate Change, and Social Integration. A European approach is required in the globally emerging aquaponics research field building on the foundations of Europe’s status as a global centre of excellence and technological innovation in the domains of aquaculture and hydroponic horticulture. The EU Aquaponics Hub aims to the development of aquaponics in the EU, by leading the research agenda through the creation of a networking hub of expert research and industry
scientists, engineers, economists, aquaculturists and horticulturalists, and contributing to the training of young aquaponic scientists. The EU Aquaponics Hub focuses on three primary systems in three settings; 1) ‘cities and urban areas’ – urban agriculture aquaponics, 2) ‘developing country systems’ – devising systems and technologies for food security for local people and 3) ‘industrial scale aquaponics’ – providing competitive systems delivering cost effective, healthy and sustainable local food in the EU. (European Union)

Washington, DC Aquaponics
At the moment, there is not too much going on aquaponically in Washington, DC. But that is about to change.

UDC’s Muirkirk research farm in Beltsville, MD has had a small aquaponic system for several years. But the operation is currently being renovated with state-of-the-art aquaponics systems.
The University of the District of Columbia has a 144-acre research farm. The overall goal of the Muirkirk Agricultural Experiment Station is to research sustainable and organic agriculture techniques and apply them to an urban agricultural setting. The station’s Sustainable Agriculture Program teaches gardeners how to use these techniques to increase productivity in their urban gardens despite the smaller land areas available. Muirkirk also seeks to limit the use of commercial chemical fertilizers and toxic chemicals for pest control which can have harmful effects on the environment and human health. (UDC)

UDC also operates an aquaponic system across the street from Capitol Heights Metro Station and it is installing systems at its Mt. Vernon and Bertie Backus campuses.

UDC is also establishing at least four urban food hubs, a concept it developed to advance local food security. Each urban food hub consists of four components: food production, processing, and distribution; and waste reduction / reuse. The hubs will incorporate hydroponic or aquaponic systems to produce food.

In July 2014 Jerome Peloquin, Founder and President of the Family Fish Farm Network, testified about aquaponics potential before the Washington, DC City Council Committee on Transportation and the Environment. The Family Fish Farm network has a social business plan to spread a network of employee-owned aquaponic farms in the inner cities across America.

Aquaponics in Hawaii
Blessed with sub-tropical climate, Hawaii is a suitable location for aquaponic production. As of 2013, there are at least five commercial-scale aquaponics operations in the state of Hawaii. Aquaponic farms in Hawaii produce a variety of vegetables (lettuce, green onions, beets, tomatoes, etc.) and fish (tilapia and Chinese catfish). Among them, lettuce and tilapia share most of the production in the Hawaii farms. While the size of the farms is relatively small, the farms produce vegetable and fish that are sold at market throughout the year on a regular basis. (Tokunaga et al, 2013)

The University of Hawaiʻi (UH) and the Hawaiʻi Department of Agriculture (HDOA) developed a Hawai’i Aquaponics Workforce group. The group hosted free seminars throughout the state to equip growers with the knowledge they will need as the industry develops. (

Aquaponics in the United Arab Emirates
The Baniyas centre, located in the Zayed Higher Agricultural Centre for Development and Rehabilitation in Abu Dhabi, has so far produced 10 tonnes of fish. The centre has two 2,400-square metre greenhouses – one for fish, one for vegetables. [total 1.2 acres] “We are planting the seeds now,” said Mr Al Areefi. “In 21 days, we will get 60,000 heads of lettuce and the other produce will take around two months to grow.” Each crop is forecast to generate 10 tonnes of food in the next year. Once fully grown, the produce will be sold to supermarkets across the UAE. When fully operating, the centre should be able to produce up to 40 tonnes of produce and 12 tonnes of fish. “We should be able to produce at least 52 tonnes of food by next year,” said Mr Al Areefi….Even the energy is expected to go green in the future, as the centre has plans to use sun and wind power to operate the system’s pumps. Mr Al Areefi is hoping for government support as many farmers have expressed interest in the technology. “I hope this year, once it is complete, that the Government will subsidise it so people can replicate it,’ he said. ‘It’s a step towards helping the UAE’s future food supplies.” (The National)