Fish is a popular dish around the world, and in the US we eat a lot of it. Americans ate almost 5 million pounds of seafood in 2009, most of which was salmon, tuna and shrimp. US fisheries are generally well managed, but over 90 percent of the fish we eat is imported and half of this is farmed.
Unfortunately, between poor fisheries management, loss of habitat and ocean pollution, 90 percent of the world's fisheries are now fully exploited, over-exploited or have collapsed. Recirculating farms - which include aquaponic, hydroponic and on-land fish farms - offer us a means to grow fish and plants in a manner that can be space-, water- and energy-efficient, are better for the environment and are a source of local produce and fish, which can help alleviate food insecurity.
Recirculating Farms Coalition (RFC), a collaborative group of farmers, educators, non-profit organizations and many others committed to building local sources of healthy, accessible food, has just launched Better Fish Farming, a new website about recirculating farms that will help you understand what they are, how they work and why they're so great for fish, plants, people and the environment. You can even meet a few recirculating farmers! RFC's Executive Director Marianne Cufone says she created the site to "highlight the various ways recirculating farms - and in particular those that raise fish - are contributing to sustainable agriculture in the US and around the world."
What's a Recirculating Farm?
If you've eaten hydroponically grown produce, then you've likely eaten food from a recirculating farm. The farms are incredibly versatile and have been established in greenhouses and warehouses, in basements and on rooftops, and they're located in cities, suburbs and rural areas alike.
The farms are efficient for growing produce - vegetables, herbs, fruit and flowers - because they use space well, they recirculate water and in some cases use as little as 10 percent of the water used by land-based farming. Depending on how they are established, they can be energy efficient, too. And when fish and plants are grown in the same system, the fish waste fertilizes the plants, which, in turn, remove waste from the water so clean water can be returned to the fish. It's a symbiotic relationship that works.
Why "Better" Fish Farming?
Recirculating fish farms are more sustainable than open water fish farming for several reasons. Open water farms can cause problems with pollution from fish waste in the environment surrounding the farms. There are also problems with fish escapes and interbreeding between local and farmed fish, both of which can alter local fish populations and ecosystems around the farms. In addition, open water fish farms can create conflicts with local fisherman. All of these problems are addressed by bringing these farms on land and raising fish in a closed, self-contained system (think really big aquariums).
The next time you're at the grocery store and you're pondering the benefits of a hydroponically raised head of lettuce, check out Better Fish Farming to learn more about how it was grown in a recirculating farm.