October 7, 2014

Aquaponics is a “Growing” Field

Christine Grillo

Christine Grillo

Contributing Writer

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

Aquaponics survey respondents, 2014

Aquaponics survey respondents, 2014

Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future have conducted one of the first large-scale international surveys of aquaponics practitioners. For those who’ve noticed the buzz around aquaponics, the findings are not surprising. First of all, more than 800 people responded to the voluntary survey, which in itself demonstrates enthusiasm. Second, the results show that most respondents are new to the field, and third, that most of them are practicing as hobbyists. The survey has uncovered a couple of big themes in the field of aquaponics: enthusiasm and momentum.

Aquaponics is the merging of soilless vegetable farming and fish farming—hydroponics plus aquaculture. It’s a system that continuously recycles water, with fish waste being broken down by bacteria into nutrients that get filtered and used by plants that are harvested. One benefit to the recirculation of water is that very little wastewater is created.

Among the survey respondents, the most commonly grown plants included leafy greens, herbs, and tomatoes. The most popularly grown fish were catfish, tilapia, and ornamental fish. Most used electricity from the power grid, municipal water or well water, and commercial fish feed, so more work is needed to get hobbyists adopting environmentally sustainable inputs like passive solar, rainwater, and non-commercial fish feeds. For more information about the findings, see the research brief.

Laura Genello, who manages the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future Aquaponics Project and is one of the co-authors of the study, said, “There’s a lot of buzz about aquaponics, but nobody has really documented the scope of aquaponics internationally. By conducting this study, we hoped to better understand and characterize the aquaponics movement.” As the farm manager, Genello works closely with the fish and the plants, and conducts tours of the facility for schools and other groups.

Of course, there are limitations to a voluntary survey. There are many ways that selection bias can play into a survey, so we can’t claim that the study is representative of what’s actually happening internationally or in the U.S. But it gives us some good ideas about what the trends are among people who speak English, and what methods respondent-practitioners are using in their operations. (Read the news release.)

CLF authors of the paper include Dave Love, Jillian Fry, and Laura Genello, and the paper, “An International Survey of Aquaponics Practitioners,” appears in PLOS ONE.


  1. This is a really fantastic survey. Thank you so much for doing and reporting on this!

    I’m really intrigued by the high percentage of people who sell products and systems rather than just growing for themselves. This makes me curious to what extent folks are getting into aquaponics to make money rather than to grow.

    In essence, I’m wondering to what extent it’s an expanding gardening/farming technique vs. an investment bubble (like tulip bulbs or angora rabbits).

  2. Indeed, with a few exceptions, aquaponics still seems to be seen only as a hobby by many. Though this does not apply everywhere. In e.g. the Philippines and Indonesia there are a lot of commercial large aquaponics “farms” already, e.g. for raising tilapia and vegetables etc. However, with the current loss of topsoil, a drought like in California as a timely warning and, even if oil prices currently are deceptively low and sending the wrong signal, fossil-fuel dependent fertilizers being a drag on resources eventually, aquaponics which allow up to eight times the yield that “best” intensive land-based farming allows, could be the future, even with bringing production into the urban environment and do away with another source of energy wastage: transport.

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