International aquaculture course stresses natural systems thinking for fish farming

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the 12th annual International Aquaponics and Tilapia Aquaculture Course in St. Croix at the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI). I was able to meet and learn from many wonderful people who traveled from about 21 U.S. states and 18 countries including Canada, Mexico, six Caribbean islands, Peru, Argentina, the United Kingdom, Nigeria, Singapore, and Saipan, a tiny island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Course participants ranged from commercial and aspiring farmers to backyard hobbyists, non-profit and international development workers, aquaculture extension specialists, academics, entrepreneurs, and investors.

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Charlie Schultz, course instructor, harvesting basil

Throughout the week, the course instructors emphasized that integratedfarming systems, such as aquaponics, can be more environmentally sustainable, resilient and potentially more profitable than monoculture of either fish or plant species. Course lectures included tilapia biology, broodstock spawning, fry cultivation and growout, plant propagation and hydroponics, integrated pest management, system design, and commercial considerations. Field work followed in-class lectures for hands-on learning activities.

Aquaponics is essentially a method for boosting profits from aquaculture (i.e., fish farming) by capturing excess nutrients inherent in fish waste to raise plants as a secondary revenue crop. In this regard aquaponics borrows heavily from hydroponics — a method for raising plants in a soil-less, nutrient-rich water, but it differs in one key respect. Hydroponics is performed with microbiologically clean water where all inputs come from fertilizers, while in aquaponics “we keep our system dirty” says the course’s lead instructor and UVI professor, Dr. Jim Rakocy, repeating the mantra this leader in the aquaponics movement has developed during his 30 years of research. Read More >