In a recent forum discussion, I posted to the effect that commercial aquaponics in Australia, as such, did not exist.
This prompted an immediate challenge from a colleague who consults widely within the Australian aquaculture industry. He told me that he was aware of several commercial aquaculture operations that had hydroponic units attached – which (technically-speaking) made them aquaponics systems.
I’m no less attached to being right than most other people so I countered with….“Well, how come no-one knows about them?”
His response was to say that these operations did not think of themselves as aquaponics units. Furthermore, they did not list or market themselves as aquaponics….and that, in the handful of cases that he could think of, they sold their produce into central markets (like the Sydney Fish Market and the commercial hydroponics equivalents).
It was clear from his comments that, notwithstanding the fact that these commercial operators must know about aquaponics, they chose to publicly identify with the aquaculture and/or hydroponics industries rather than aquaponics.
Given that, to their fish customers, these operators are aquaculturists – and to their plant customers, they are hydroponicists or horticulturists – and that they already enjoy financial success – why would they confuse their existing markets by introducing something called aquaponics into the equation.
From a technical perspective, what they are doing is best described as integrated aquaculture. Far from being new, integrated aquaculture is a variation on the centuries-old practice of mixed farming.
Relevant government agencies already refer to the integration of fish and plants (and other organisms) by that term…..or as integrated agri-aquaculture.
Whatever they call it, it’s already in-principle government policy in many places.
Aside from matters of self-perception, another reason that commercial aquaponicists are less visible is, that when they need a professional advice for either of their aquaculture or hydroponic units, they’ll go to a specialist for either discipline.
Given that much of what currently passes for commercial aquaponics theory and practice is actually snake oil being peddled by people who lack experience in either aquaculture or hydroponics, it’s unlikely that this will change anytime soon.
In my view, we probably don’t need a commercial aquaponics industry…… because we already have an integrated aquaculture industry which (for a variety of reasons) does not wish to embrace the name “aquaponics” – and which is much larger than we might previously have guessed.
It’s also likely that integrated aquaculture will continue to grow…..driven by the need for aquaculturists to add value to the water and solid wastes that are already a byproduct of what they do……for both environmental and economic reasons.
Integrated aquaculture is also far less doctrinaire than aquaponics. It will comfortably embrace a much broader integration of fish and plants – including fodder crops, fruit and nut trees, oilseeds and algae – which will encourage the integration of other farmed organisms like rabbits, chickens and pigs.
Indeed, the scope of such integrations is limited only by the market and the imagination of the farmer.
Suffice to say, while commercial aquaponics is faltering; integrated aquaculture appears to be quietly flourishing.