Fish farming waste used to grow vegetables

A rising tide of food security concerns may be helping to bring aquaponics - a sustainable technique - into the mainstream.
Jason Oziel (right) and Alberta researcher Nick Savidov tend to plants at the aquaponics lab at Crop Diversification Centre North in Edmonton. (CBC)

A rising tide of food security concerns may be helping to bring aquaponics into the mainstream.

This week, Alberta’s Crop Diversification Centre North allowed the public into its Edmonton research facility to learn more about the sustainable farming technique. Noa Fisheries, an Ontario aquaponic company, organized a series of workshops with Alberta experts.

“There’s a growing need for local sustainable food production technologies,” Noa Fisheries Director Jason Oziel said. “Aquaponics, because there’s no chemical inputs, is completely natural.”

Aquaponics combines fish farming techniques and hydroponics to create a self-sustaining agriculture operation.

Nick Savidov, researcher with Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development. (CBC)

"Microorganisms link together two components -- plants and fish -- in one living ecosystem and they make the whole operation work much more efficiently,“says scientist Nick Savidov with Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development.

Rather than using chemicals, fertilizers or filtration, the microorganisms turn fish waste into nutrients for tomato and cucumber plants. The water is cleaned and recycled into the fish habitat.

Savidov led tours of Crop Diversification Centre North’s research facility along with Lethbridge College’s Charlie Shultz and James Tidwell of Kentucky State University.

Oziel says concerns about genetically modified organisms, the sustainability of ocean fisheries and pesticides are encouraging both businesses and hobbyists to try the new technology.

“It can basically be scaled to any size. It can be in your household, in your kitchen, in your basement, in your backyard, it can be scaled up to a commercial aquaponic enterprise as well.”

Noa Fisheries has a commercial operation that supplies hormone-free tilapia fry and fingerling and has already been supplying hobbyists and small businesses with aquaponic systems.

Savidov is also enthusiastic about the prospects for aquaponics, but he’s reluctant to say when the technology will become widely available. He says more workshops connecting experts will help sustainable farming techniques flourish.

“In order to grow food for future generations we need to recycle nutrients, which, now, most of them are wasted,” Savidov says.

“We can help humanity to survive this planet.”

With files from Radio-Canada's Jessica L'Heureux