Aquaponics Association Advises U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to Keep Aquaponic Species Off the “Injurious” List

The Aquaponics Association has submitted its opinion to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) that the FWS should take no current action on the Center for Invasive Species Prevention’s (CISP) petition of September, 2016. CISP petitioned the FWS to list 43 new aquatic species as “injurious”, including several species vital to the aquaponics industry. These listings would make it difficult or impossible to grow many of the common aquaponic fish.

The Aquaponics Association has submitted its opinion to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) that the FWS should take no current action on the Center for Invasive Species Prevention’s (CISP) petition of September, 2016. CISP petitioned the FWS to list 43 new aquatic species as “injurious”, including several species vital to the aquaponics industry. These listings would make it difficult or impossible to grow many of the common aquaponic fish.

The Aquaponics Association urges the FWS to conduct a more stringent ecological risk analysis before it takes any actions; and to balance CISP’s goal of preventing invasive species proliferation with the aquaponics industry’s safe and legitimate use of a wide variety of fish.

In December, 2016 the Aquaponics Association sent a letter to FWS Director Mr. Craig Martin stating that certain species on the petition are vitally important to the aquaponics industry and should not be listed as “injurious”. Furthermore, most aquaponic systems are “closed-loop” and do not have a natural means for fish to escape into natural waterways.

The Aquaponics Association continues to follow the FWS’s actions on this petition, and will advocate that the FWS keep species important to the aquaponics industry off the injurious list unless a thorough assessment of ecological risks shows such action is necessary. See below for a copy of the Aquaponics Association’s letter to the FWS.


Aquaponics Association Letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Mr. Craig Martin, Chief
Branch of Aquatic Invasive Species
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
5275 Leesburg Pike
Falls Church, VA 22041

Dear Mr. Martin:
The Aquaponics Association urges the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to take no action on the 43 aquatic species which were petitioned to be listed as injurious by the Center for Invasive Species Prevention in September, 2016.

Aquaponics is a highly efficient method to grow fish and plants in a recirculating, symbiotic system. Aquaponics uses 90% less water than traditional soil growth, and it does not require pesticides, fertilizers, or antibiotics. It can also grow food in urban or drought-stricken environments.

Aquaponics practitioners employ a variety of aquatic species. Several species popular in both commercial, educational, and personal aquaponic systems are included on this petition, such as varieties of Tilapia, Carp, Catfish, and Perch. If these species were to be listed as injurious, it would be extremely damaging to the aquaponics industry.

The aquaponics industry is growing rapidly, and commercial systems are becoming mainstream. This is good news for our health and our environment because aquaponics is a highly sustainable source of local fresh produce, and an efficient source of protein. The listing of these aquatic species as injurious would be harmful not just for our industry, but for our entire environment.

Aquaponic systems are closed-loop, without any logical way for aquatic species to escape into the wild. Aquaponics has been practiced successfully for decades without any known incidence of aquatic species escaping. Therefore, the Aquaponics Association urges you to take no current action regarding this petition.


Thank you,

Brian Filipowich
Director of Public Policy
The Aquaponics Association

Official Statement on the Ongoing NOSB (National Organic Standards Board) Aquaponic Eligibility Debate

The Aquaponics Association’s official statement on the ongoing NOSB (National Organic Standards Board) Aquaponic eligibility debate. Prepared by:

Brian Filipowich

Aquaponics Association, Directer of Public Policy, February 2017

The Aquaponics Association Urges the National Organic Standards Board to Maintain the Organic Eligibility of Aquaponic Produce

The Aquaponics Association very strongly urges the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) to maintain the ability of crops grown in aquaponic systems to carry the organic seal. The 15-member NOSB met in St. Louis last November and considered a proposal to revoke the organic eligibility of crops grown in water-based systems like aquaponic, hydroponic, and perhaps even soil-based “container-grown” systems. The NOSB noted that in 2016 there are 52 certified organic hydroponic/aquaponic operations. The NOSB plans to vote again in April, at the Spring 2017 meeting in Denver.

The Aquaponics Association firmly believes that we can deliver what consumers expect when they see the organic label:         

1)  No synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, or antibiotics

2)  Sustainable production

3)  Healthy, active microbiology


The NOSB eventually found that more work will be needed before making a final decision on this matter, and they sent it back for more work in the Crops Sub-committee. They did, however, pass a non-binding resolution stating their belief that crops with “entirely water-based substrates” should not be eligible. And, in their statements, several members of the NOSB expressed a keen interest in revoking aquaponic organic eligibility. Even if the NOSB does eventually make a final decision, it would still take years for the National Organic Program (NOP) to write and implement rules. (In fact, the NOP did not act on the NOSB’s 2010 recommendation to ban hydroponics). So, for the foreseeable future, aquaponics remains organic eligible. We will see movement and more clarity on this issue at the next NOSB meeting in April 2017.

Dr. Sarah Taber, Aquaponics Association Director of Food Safety, delivered a statement illustrating the depth of empirical peer-reviewed research showing that the roots of aquaponic plants contain the same quantity and diversity of root bacteria and fungi as soil-grown plants. This statement spoke to a key consideration of organic eligibility: whether plant nutrients are delivered via biological processes or inert mineral solutions.

Brian Filipowich, Aquaponics Association Director of Public Policy, made a statement about consumers’ organic expectations, the sustainability of aquaponics, and the economic effect of the organic seal on aquaponic growers. He noted that the price premium of organic crops is critical to incentivizing new entrants into sustainable growing. (See the full statement for the further discussion of efficiency and economics.)

Aquaponic systems are their own ecosystem of fish, plants, and bacteria that thrive in a symbiotic environment. Because the systems are closed-loop, only the minimum necessary inputs are added (fish food) and with no environmentally-damaging runoff. Aquaponics uses over 90% less water than soil- grown crops. We can also offer a healthy, efficient, and delicious source of animal protein: fish such as Tilapia, Blue Gill, and Perch. And regarding organic: we can’t use antibiotics or chemical pesticides in our systems because it would kill our bacteria and our ecosystems.

Because aquaponics is not soil-based, it can provide fresh local produce in urban or drought-stricken areas. If we are going to meet the demand for affordable organic produce in the decades to come, we will need to employ efficient methods like aquaponics. And, controlled environment production offers full-year jobs, rather than seasonal.

The Aquaponics Association has formed the Aquaponic and Hydroponic Organic Coalition to advocate on this front. The Coalition is a group of over 50 aquaponic and hydroponic growers and stakeholders.                   

Click Here, to Join the Aquaponic and Hydropoponic Coalition.

The Coalition will continue to fight for organic eligibility until the NOP resolves the issue.

Join our cause to ensure the future of aquaponics is protected! 

Washington Post Boosts Tilapia

The Washington Post recently ran an article of interest to the aquaponic community: Tilapia Has a Terrible Reputation. Does it Deserve It? (Tamar Haspel. Washington Post. October 24, 2016.)

The Post found that tilapia has an unfair bad rap, and this should make us aquaponic folk angry! Because its costing us!

The article states: “Tilapia, in short, is an environmentally friendly, lean, low-calorie source of protein. We need all of those we can get.” And they did a taste test among some top Washington, DC food gurus; tilapia ranked 2nd of 6 among similar types of fish.

The commercial performance of tilapia is important to the success of the aquaponic industry. Tilapia is the most commonly used aquaponic fish because of its ability to withstand wide variances of ph, temperature, and water quality. And cuz its a quick efficient grower. In a 2015 survey, Commercial Aquaponics Production and Profitability, Findings from an International Survey (Love et al, 2015), researchers found that 69% of respondents used tilapia.

While tilapia is not as healthy or delicious as salmon, it is a lean source of healthy protein. Aquaponics offers us a way to grow this lean healthy protein locally, even in urban areas. This could have dramatically positive repercussions for our health, environment, and economy. But, perversely, these fish are more of an economic liability than an asset for most aquaponic operations, as found in a 2015 paper: Economics of Aquaponics (Engle, 2015).

Right now, tilapia is undervalued because of consumers’ misconceptions (which stem from poor-quality chinese tilapia imports). We need to show consumers that tilapia – when raised appropriately – is healthy and tasty. Then the price of tilapia will rise like the water in your media bed!

For some aquaponic operations, an increase in the price of tilapia will have a significant effect on their bottom line.

(And this does not even go into the fact that we don’t adequately charge for the costs of our food system to our environment and health. Is it REALLY cheaper to buy a tilapia raised in unhealthy conditions shipped from thousands of miles away in China?????!?!?!? We need to start building the hidden costs of our food system into our food prices. These costs include extreme water usage, carbon usage, pesticide usage, antibiotic usage, fertilizer usage, and nutrient runoff. Then the price of long-distance industrially-produced food would go up and we would be incentivized to buy local food… which would also benefit our economy!)

And see another good industry survey: An International Survey of Aquaponics Practitioners (Love et al, 2014)