Why Decoupled Aquaponics

One of the great things about aquaponics is the ability to have a fully integrated system, where the fish and the plants balance one another. The well-known research system at the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) is a great example of such a system: integrated and balanced.

Yet more and more, we hear talk of decoupled aquaponics, where the fish and the plants are managed separately, though they ultimately do share resources. Let's explore some of the reasons why decoupled aquaponics is gaining popularity for farmers:

    1. When an aquaponic system is decoupled (or easily decouple-able), each of the two portion of the system (plants, fish) can operate optimally without concern about the other portion. This means that the plants can be run off a separate reservoir which could be filled with water from the fish or switched out to standard hydroponic solution, at need. Similarly, the fish have adequate filtration independent of whether the plant portion of the system is at exactly the right stage of growth to perfectly absorb the nutrients and ammonia produced by the fish.
    2. If food safety certification is required, the water from the fish can be sanitized to eliminate all concern, whether this is achieved by pasteurization, ozonification, or purification using ultraviolet (UV) light.
    3. "Decoupled" systems allow other sources of animal byproducts to be used as nutrient sources, as long as they have been purified of pathogens. This would allow, for example, "aquaponics" to be done without any fish at all, using ducks, chickens, rabbits, or even cows.
    4. With a decoupled system, it becomes possible to shut down part of the system for a few months. This is often done in temperate regions where short days and cold temperatures make it economically prohibitive to grow plants, but there is still a desire to continue with cultivating the fish.
    5. If some part of the system becomes contaminated, it becomes possible to continue with the rest of the crop, even though some portion of the system might need to be quarantined and/or sanitized.

Have any questions about what it means to have a decoupled aquaponics system? Please add your comments below.

Interested in supporting education and research to allow aquaponics to be sold in a store near you?