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Raft aquaponics – of the type popularised by the researchers at the Unversity of Virgin Islands – is being promoted as a business opportunity.

Some of these promoters are big on hyperbole but short on experience – and have yet to produce their first crop of raft entrepreneurs.

Other commercial operators, for as much as they exist, haven’t been rushing to reveal themselves – much less open their books.

So, not surprisingly, there’s been a question mark over the viability of commercial raft aquaponics.

It’s of particular interest, therefore, that Friendly Aquaponics has, in Commercial Aquaponics Newsletter #3, published details of one of their clients who purchased a turnkey (ready-to-go) FAP-designed commercial system based on four 75’ raft tanks.

Zac Hosler, from Living Aquaponics in Hawaii, has shared his experience and (more importantly for our purposes) the financial results of his first 15 months of being a commercial aquaponics operator.

In November 2010, Zac moved to Hawaii and assumed control of his new fully-functional aquaponics system.

While we don’t know how much Zac’s system cost, Susanne Friend reports that he expanded it by a further eight raft tanks (to a total of 12) during his first 12 months of operation – and that the expansion was funded out of cash flow.

Based on the information provided, Zac has projected total annual sales of $108,108 and annual operating costs (cost of goods sold) of $23,974 – for a gross margin of $84, 184.

Additional to this, Zac had overhead costs (amount not stipulated) and he would have had to pay tax.

From what remained, he’s had to feed, clothe and house his family…..and get a return on his initial investment with Friendly Aquaponics.

It’s about 40 years since my last visit to Hawaii, so I’m out of touch with what things cost there.   But I have run several of these micro-businesses over several decades – and I’ve consulted to many others – and I know how fragile they can be.

Based on current numbers, I suspect that Zac’s existing enterprise is more of a 48-hour/week job than a business.

Susanne Friend reports on Zac’s plans to expand his operation to 20 raft tanks and, while he provides optimistic projections for income, expenses and profit, they are exactly that – projections.

So, premised on what we have right now – raft aquaponics is still a marginal business opportunity that is tilapia-specific – and is dependent on a year-round growing season and a strong local market.

The good news is that someone is finally talking numbers around commercial aquaponics and, while they’re not big numbers, there is scope for cautious optimism – about the Friendly Aquaponics model at least.

Now, if Zac can resist the temptation to conduct training courses, write a book or make some DVD’s, distill some snake oil – or otherwise blur the whole fish/plant thing – we may have the makings of a cottage industry.

Thanks to Friendly Aquaponics and to Zac Hosler.  We await positive news of the expansion.