VIU Scholarship, Research, and Creative Activity

Aquaponics Projects

Aquaponics combines aquaculture (finfish production) with hydroponics (water-based plant production).  In an aquaponics system, feed provided to the fish is a source of nutrients for both the fish and, after digested, for the plants.

A common goldfish tank is a simple demonstration of aquaponics.  The green algae that can grow in the fish tank utilizes the nutrients from feed digested by the goldfish.  Over-feed the goldfish and more green algae occurs.  The difference is we don’t eat the green algae!

The VIU aquaponics system is a freshwater recirculation aquaculture system (RAS) which uses very little new water.  Fish (sturgeon) require high quality water for optimum rearing conditions.  Nutrients in the water as a by-product of food digestion are filtered out by the plants helping to improve the water quality for the fish. (Additional biological and mechanical filtration may also be required depending on the system).

Aquaponics culture is really three (3) culture systems in one, and balancing all three systems is extremely important for success: (1) Fish culture system (2) Plant culture system, and (3) Bacterial culture system.  The bacteria (or microbes) growing on the growing media and plant roots really boost nutrient uptake in the plants and therefore plant productivity.

Our project is unique in that

  • We are using a temperate (cool) water fish – sturgeon.  Most aquaponics use warm water fish (e.g. tilapia).
  • We are investigating how to couple aquaponics to an existing fish farm; not how to add fish farming to an existing hydroponics operation (which is the most common approach).
  • We are using a state of the art greenhouse made of polycarbonate that has 80% light transmission and 95% diffusion so there are no shadows – leaving more light available for plant growth. (Gutter Greenhouse)
  • We are using comparing four different types of aquaponics – deep water culture (rafts), vertical growing (towers), media beds (clay balls), and nutrient film technique (NFT’s - basically pipes with water trickling through).

Our Goal – to produce information that will optimize production and maximize revenue

Why are we investigating aquaponics?  Aquaponics is a food projection system that can improve aquaculture sustainability:

  • Economic sustainability – through crop diversification and improved farm economics;
  • Environmental sustainability – by decreasing the ecological footprint (as the plants absorb the nutrients that would otherwise go down the drain) and;
  • Social sustainability - by providing an improved understanding of this integrated food production system.

The produce grown in our aquaponics system is used by the students in the VIU Culinary Program.  Our partnership with the Culinary Institute of Vancouver Island provides a great opportunity to explain aquaculture and aquaponics production to the chefs and opinion makers of the future.  We have also set aside one production unit as a “tasting tray” for people touring our system.

VIU Culinary student preparing our BBQ sturgeon

VIU Culinary student preparing our BBQ sturgeon at an event we hosted to showcase our sturgeon and produce

We have tried over 15 plant species so far.

4 types of lettuce
(cimmaron, radicchio, red sail and gourmet mix)

Nesturtiums with cut flowers to be tried later
Swiss chard Quinoa
Cilantro Chives
Curly cress White radishes
Kale Cucumbers
Basil Strawberries

 

Balancing water chemistry to optimize plant and fish growth and the beneficial bacterial community is a delicate dance which must consider among other things - fish feed type, feeding rate, new water input, plant species grown, nutrient supplementation, time of year etc.

Water quality monitoring must be done regularly and parameters include: nitrogen and phosphorus, as well as micro-nutrients (e.g. iron, manganese, selenium, boron, zinc, copper, etc.).

What we are finding:

  • Our system is performing well.
  • Sturgeon are well suited to aquaponics because they can tolerate lower pH (acidity level in the water) which makes micronutrients (plant food) more available to the plants.
  • Sturgeon are efficient eaters, maximizing fish and plant growth for each feeding event.
  • Plant growth and quality is excellent.
  • Micronutrients must be added at intervals.
  • Students and the general public are extremely interested in this project.

We have a support network of experts including:

  • Dr. Nick Savidov, Alberta Government, Crop Diversification Centre – is a leading expert on aquaponics.  Dr. Savidov found plant productivity increased 30% using aquaponics versus hydroponics reference this
  • Dr. Timothy Baumann, UFV  and Dr. Andrew Riseman UBC – plant specialists
  • Our project leader, Dr. Dan Baker, sturgeon specialist
  • VIU sturgeon technicians, Dave Switzer and Gord Edmondson
VIU students Kayla Mohns and Lenora Turcotte holding white sturgeon in aquaponics greenhouse

VIU students, Kayla Mohns (l) and Lenora Turcotte (r) holding a White sturgeon
in the aquaponics greenhouse

Dr. Dan Baker VIU sturgeon specialists aquaponics

Dr. Daniel Baker, PDF and lead scientist

 

Funding for the Sturgeon-Aquaponics Project was provided by:

  • Investment Agriculture Foundation
  • MITACS Accelerate Program
  • Western Economic Diversification
  • Vancouver Island University
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