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aquaponics

Footnotes from the Field: Fall 2019

in 2019/Climate Change/Current Issue/Fall 2019/Footnotes from the Field/Grow Organic/Land Stewardship/Organic Standards/Standards Updates/Water Management

Water, Water, Everywhere… and Not a Drop to Drink!

Marjorie Harris

Special thanks to Tim Rundle of Creative Salmon for helping pull this synopsis on Aquaculture together!

The Canadian Aquaculture Standard CAN/CGSB-32.312 was published in 2012, with the new revision released in February 2018. The Aquaculture Standard stipulates the following:

Section 1.3: In the event of any conflict or inconsistency between this standard and CAN/CGSB-32.310 /311, this standard will take precedence.
Section 1.4: Prohibited substances list is identical to organic agriculture except that the soil amendments clause is expanded for aquaculture – Soil, sediment, benthic, and water amendments that contain a substance not listed in clause 11.

Seventy percent of our blue planet’s surface is covered by the oceanic ecosystem. Short of desalination, that water isn’t available for drinking, and yet the oceans’ salt water has all of the micronutrients required for human health. As of 2012, farmed fish production throughout the world outpaced beef production.1 Surprisingly, 60% of British Columbia’s exported agricultural products come from aquaculture operations. In 2017, Canada’s wild fish catch harvest was 851,510 million tonnes, and the aquaculture harvest was 191,416 million tonnes.2

Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) tracks 179 wild fish stocks worldwide, and states that “fishing is a global industry, and of key importance to Canada. Sadly, overfishing, illegal fishing activities, and the destruction of ocean ecosystems are serious global issues that require immediate and continuing attention. Canada is committed to combating these problems.”3

According to the Earth Policy Institute, these trends illustrate the latest stage in a historic shift in food production—a shift that at its core is a story of natural limits: “The bottom line is that getting much more food from natural systems may not be possible.” In terms of resources required for livestock production, “Cattle consume seven pounds of grain or more to produce an additional pound of beef. This is twice as high as the grain rations for pigs, and over three times those of poultry.” In contrast, states the Earth Policy Institute, “Fish are far more efficient, typically taking less than two pounds of feed to add another pound of weight. Pork and poultry are the most widely eaten forms of animal protein worldwide, but farmed fish output is increasing the fastest.”1

Clearly, it looks like aquaculture is here to stay as a form of high quality, lower input, method of protein production, but is it the answer? Conventional aquaculture systems have left a legacy of controversy and environmental issues when operated in natural ecosystems.

Can organic aquaculture meet the needs for human food production and be environmentally friendly?

On January 25th, 2019, I attended an organic aquaculture training given by Tim Rundle, General Manager of Creative Salmon, North America’s only major producer of indigenous Pacific Chinook (King) salmon and Canada’s first producer of certified organic farm-raised salmon.

The biggest take away for me was that I was impressed with the standard’s requirements for the farmed species to be indigenous or adapted to the region. This requirement is a huge improvement over conventional systems. For example, Atlantic salmon being raised in conventional farmed systems in BC coastal waters are plagued by sea lice, while Creative Salmon’s Chinook salmon have a natural resistance to sea lice and no parasite treatments have been required—the species is indigenous or adapted to living where it is being raised with respect to its natural requirements.4

In an article featured on Aquaculture North America, Liza Mayer writes, “Rundle is first to admit that organic farming is not easy. Compared to conventional farming, fish raised under organic standards are provided added space in the pen enclosures,” in a parallel to the stocking requirements for land-based livestock in the organic standards. Moyer goes on to explain that “Chinooks, known to be more aggressive than their Atlantic cousins, swim freely because there are fewer of them in the pen, but it also means lower harvest volume. For Creative Salmon, that is 8 kilograms of fish per cubic meter maximum, although organic standards allow up to 10 kilograms of fish per cubic meter. Density in conventional farming could be from 20 to 25 kilograms per cubic metre.”5

What does the Aquaculture Standard cover?

Aquaculture is defined as the cultivation of crops or livestock in a controlled or managed aquatic environment (marine and land based freshwater and salt water operations). Aquaculture products are crops and livestock, or a product wholly or partly derived therefrom, cultivated in a controlled or managed aquatic environment. Aquaponics is also covered by the new Aquaculture Standard and is defined as a production system that combines the cultivation of crops and livestock in a symbiotic relationship. The products of fishing and wild animals are not considered part of this definition.

Recently, conventional aquaponics received some negative press due to the announcement that CanadaGap would be withdrawing aquaculture from its FoodSafe certification programs due to the use of antibiotics, which end up being incorporated into the plant and livestock products. Organic aquaculture does not allow for the use of antibiotics, and so the discussions around aquaponics need clarity to highlight the differences between conventional and organic productions systems. As aquaponics entrepreneur Gabe Cipes explains, “We have two conventional agricultural systems, aquaculture and hydroponics, that are dependent on chemical inputs and are decidedly bad for human health and the health of the environment.”

Cipes, who has extensive experience in organic and biodynamic farming, says that “If those two conventional systems are combined [into aquaponics] and managed according to the organic Aquaculture Standards, then the fish take care of the plants and the plants take care of the fish and there is no need for chemical or conventional inputs.” The benefit of aquaponics, according to Cipes, is the ability to “create a closed loop ecology that is beneficial for humans and our ecology. It is a high density, low foot print method of food production that could be an integral and biologically secure part of the future of food security and sovereignty if given the opportunity.”

Aquaculture is already producing more fish than wild catches and the predictions are that aquaculture will keep growing at a steady rate. British Columbia is a leading salmon producer in the world and is Canada’s leader in aquaculture production. There is tremendous opportunity to expand organic aquaculture production in BC!

Hungry for More Aquaculture Info?

World Resources Institute projects that aquaculture production will need to more than double by 2050. But how to get there sustainably? Check out their findings, along with the recommendations they’re making to transform the aquaculture industry: wri.org/publication/improving-aquaculture


Marjorie Harris, BSc, IOIA VO and Organophyte.

Feature image: Wapta Falls, Yoho Park, BC. Credit: Keith Young (CC)

References
1. Earth Policy Institute: earth-policy.org/plan_b_updates/2013/ update114
2. Fisheries and Oceans, Fast Facts:
waves-vagues.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/Library/40782281.pdf
3. Fisheries and Oceans Canada:
dfo-mpo.gc.ca/international/index-eng.htm
4. Rundle, Tim. (2019, January), Creative Salmon. Presented at the Organic Aquaculture Training of the International Organic Inspectors Association.
5. Mayer, Liza. (2018, February). Creative Salmon: In a class of its own. Aquaculture North America: aquaculturenorthamerica.com/creative-salmon-in-a-class-of-its-own-1872

Aquaponics and the Organic Movement

in Crop Production/Organic Standards/Summer 2017

Gabe Cipes


Editor’s note: Aquaponics is a hotly debated topic in the organic sector. As the BC Organic Grower strives to make space for open discussion on all things organic, these pages provide an excellent forum to examine aquaponics in an organic context.


The fate and state of the world now depends on innovation in many forms to be supported and embraced where they are appropriate—that includes recognizing the organic nature of aquaponics.

The organic movement is based on a set of principles: health, ecology, fairness, and care for future generations and the environment. Following these principles, aquaponics is a method to produce a vast plethora of aquatic animals, fruits, and vegetables using a small fraction (~5%) of the water and on only a fraction of the land it takes to produce terrestrial crops. The soil is a recirculating, closed loop, self-sustaining, aquatic rhizosphere. The bi-product is a high value nutrient and biologically rich soil amendment.

The Soil is the Water

Within the system, we feed the aquatic animals, such as fish, crayfish, shrimp, turtles, or alligators, and they populate all surface areas of the system with their gut biomes and provide nutrients. A diverse host of bacteria, protozoa, worms, fungi, and microbes convert solid waste and ammonia into nitrites and then into nitrates. The plant archaeon in the system perform phytoremediation for the water before it returns to the animals by absorbing the nitrates and nutrients transformed by the microorganisms. The plants release their own microbiology through their roots. Their secretions mix with the secretions of the other microorganisms to create humic acid (humus!). Carbonic acid is created through the cycle of death within the system. Mineralization and aeration are integrated through biological and mechanical zones. Thus, the living soil ecology is born in the water. The soil is the water.

Aquaponics is not soil-less agriculture. In fact, it brings us more in touch with the essentials of organic soil biology in a not so much controlled, but created and containable environment. The same impetus to create a self-sustaining, bio-diverse ecological balance by feeding the soil biome as is indicated in the organic and Demeter standards is practiced in aquaponics.

Aquaponics is not an easy or simple method of agriculture. It can involve highly mechanized functions and be energy intensive, although there are passive solutions available. Creating a system requires a high degree of biological, mechanical, and regenerative knowledge as well as careful insight. Just as with any method of farming there can be a broad spectrum of health in practice. Creating and stabilizing this natural food producing ecosystem organically can be a life long journey for an individual or a collaborative team effort involving many different skill sets.

Photo Credit: Gabe Cipes

Aquaponics vs Hydproponics

It is critical to draw the distinction between hydroponics and aquaponics and not lump the two together as soil-less agriculture even though they may look alike in certain regards. Hydroponic growing removes the crucial soil factor and replaces it with soluble nutrient solutions force fed directly to the plants. Hydroponics can in no way duplicate either the complex benefits of soil or the beneficial environmental impact as aquaponics can.

Hydroponics was unfortunately accepted as organic by the USDA standards due to corporate lobbying and bureaucracy. In their 2010 objection to the organic certification of soil-free farming in the US, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) wrote “The abundance of organisms in healthy, organically maintained soils form a biological network, an amazing and diverse ecology that is ‘the secret,’ the foundation of the success of organic farming accomplished without the need for synthetic insecticides, nematicides, fumigants, etc…” (NOSB 2010) The “secret” to aquaponics is the same. Hydroponics is not certifiable in Canada, while aquaponics is certifiable under the Organic Aquaculture Standards CAN/CGSB- 32.312-2012. [Editor’s note: None of the Certifying Bodies (CBs) accredited by COABC are currently certifying aquaponics.]

An Ancient Practice

Millennia ago some of the most powerful nations in history utilized similar agricultural practices: the Chinampas, floating gardens of the American Aztecs, the rice paddies of ancient China, and ancient Greek descriptions of the hanging gardens of Babylon, one of the seven wonders of the world. They all relied upon fish and aquatic animals to fertilize their agricultural systems.

It is possible to grow crops this way because aquatic animals such as fish, crustaceans, and many other aquatic creatures do not carry the same potential pathogens in their manure as terrestrial animals do. The difference in application is the time and processing of the manure when comparing terrestrial manure to aquatic manure, which is pretty much immediately available as long as the system is colonized by the gut biota of the animals living in it. It can take two to six months to establish a living system. Multi-trophic remediation (involving aquatic plants and crustaceans) is encouraged in organic aquaculture.

The contemporary mastery of this method of agriculture in Canada has yet to be realized. The potential to grow fresh fish and vegetables all year long on a commercial scale is enormous. Large scale systems could economically compete with conventionally grown imported crops for the bulk foods market, supplying restaurant chains and big box stores without competing with high end niche organic markets or polluting the environment. It is accessible to all demographic and geographic variables. Due to its productivity and ability to provide both animal and vegetable products together in a compact space it can empower people to overcome hunger and starvation in remote areas.

Farming fish and crops this way allows our natural watersheds and natural soil ecologies to heal and regenerate. The vast majority of our planet is covered by oceans, which are under extreme stress today. One of the major sources of stress is over fishing (Rogers 2014). Aquaponics or variations thereof are the most sustainable methods of producing high quality and environmentally friendly fish.

Photo credit: Emmanual Eslava

Closing the Loop

The primary input of an Aquaponic system is the feed for the fish. Organic feed for salmonids, coregonids, tilapia, koi, sturgeon, cat fish, perch, and other commonly used species is commercially available upon demand in BC through at least three major pet food distributors, namely: Ewos, Taplow, and Skretting. Major strides have been made recently in designing low cost sustainable organic formulas for fish feed, with the inclusion of insect larvae, yeasts, invasive species of shrimp, algae/phytoplankton/kelp, organic grains, and tailings from the fishing industry. It is possible to close the loop on the need for aquatic fish protein and oils if organic aquaculture and aquaponic farmers work together to provide different species of tailings for formulas to be used within the organic industry. The goal is to be independent from relying on depleting oceanic sources of aquatic proteins.

There are many aquaponics operations currently certified organic in BC. You can learn more about the organic standards for aquaponics by reading the 32.312 Organic Aquaculture standard. You will see that the crop standards are pretty much identical to the 32.310 Terrestrial standard. Most operations, especially in BC, are contained structures to maintain bio-safety and bio-security. It is becoming increasingly vital to maintain organic integrity by avoiding contaminants in our environment.

In regards to pests or disease, crop pests would either be contained mechanically or be subdued by an introduced species to balance the disease or infestation. Beneficial fungi, insects, plants, and animals are introduced and form symbiotic relationships. Antibiotics and hormones are also prohibited in organic aquaculture and stocking density needs to be kept low to prevent lice or other diseases. The prohibited and allowed substances align with 32.310 in regards to all materials and devices.

As this technology and its applications develop, so too will the organic standards. They will evolve and adapt through consensus of multiple organizational bodies to include better ecological practices. I hope to be involved in that conversation for many years to come. The standards are a base for the development of this method in Canada and should inspire best practices for the burgeoning organic aquaponics industry.

Organic Aquaculture Standards:
www.scc.ca/en/standardsdb/ standards/26378


Gabe Cipes is a Permaculture designer and Biodynamicist practicing out of Summerhill Pyramid Winery in Kelowna, BC. Gabe keeps bees, chickens, creates the nine biodynamic preparations, and over sees the culinary gardens, forest gardens, and insectary habitats on the largest certified Demeter/Organic vineyard in Western Canada. Gabe serves on the board of COABC, the Biodynamic Associations of BC (BDASBC), and Demeter Canada as well as the Central Okanagan Food Policy Council (COFPC) and the Organic Okanagan Committee. Gabe has been collaborating with a team of entrepreneurs, aquaculture specialists, scientists, engineers, and biologists to develop organic and biodynamic managed commercial aquaponics facilities. The compa- ny’s mandate is to help supplant some of the conventional ravages facing the world with the highest quality, nutri- ent rich, and harmonious fish and produce, allowing our planet and populations to heal.

References
National Organic Standards Board (NOSB). (2010). Formal recom- mendation by the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) to the
National Organic Program (NOP). https://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/ default/ les/media/NOP%20Final%20Rec%20Production%20Stan dards%20for%20Terrestrial%20Plants.pdf
Rogers, A.D. (2014). State of the Oceans Report 2013. Internation- al Programme on the State of the Ocean. http://coastal-futures.net/ archives/220
Savidov, N. (2005). Evaluation of Aquaponics Technology in Alberta, Canada. Aquaponics Journal 2nd Quarter: Issue 27, pp. 20-25.

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