Aquaponics is a combination of aquaculture (raising fish and other aquatic animals) and hydroponics (growing plants in water instead of soil). Whether you’re a farmer, agriculturist, or someone looking at aquaponics as your new hobby, it’s essential to understand how an aquaponic system works and which fish make a great addition to your system.
Let’s explore the best edible and decorative fish for aquaponics!
Top 10 Fish for Aquaponics
In an aquaponic system, the fish, plants, and bacteria used in aquaponics benefit each other mutually. The fish’s waste provides fertilizer for the plants, and the plants, in turn, clean the water where the fish live. The water is recirculated and filtered, so it is an environmentally friendly option for raising fish and plants.
Fish are vital to an aquaponics system because they provide the nutrients for the plants. If you use edible fish, then they also provide nutrients for you. If you’re intimidated at the thought of maintaining an aquaponics tank, know that it’s easier than keeping an aquarium.
Even though not all fish can thrive in an aquaponics tank, our list includes plenty of options for you to choose from. Some are tiny, others are large, and a few are even edible.
No matter the type, all the following fish will help balance the ecosystem within your aquaponics tank.
The bluegill is a fish commonly found in North America; if you don’t buy them, you can catch them in their natural habitat and transfer them to your aquaponics system. They do well when they live with other fish, especially catfish, bass, and goldfish.
Warmer water will decrease the oxygen level of your tank, so in the summer, you’ll need to monitor the water’s temperature. Bluegill will eat algae and other vegetation in the tank, but they eat frequently. If you are interested in edible fish, they are typically ready to eat in less than a year.
Koi is an ornamental fish. Since they are legal worldwide, you can easily find and acquire them. They might be expensive since they are so popular, but they can survive in a wide range of water temperatures, so caring for them is relatively easy.
Though you cannot eat koi, they can live in harmony with other edible fish as long as there is enough room for all fish to have space to move. They will eat the algae in your aquaponics system, which is a benefit that makes them worth the investment.
(We also have an article on the Most Expensive Koi Fish for your interest)
Carp thrive in warmer waters and eat plants, algae, and insects from the water. This is an edible, oily fish with a taste similar to salmon. While carp caught from the wild might have a muddy taste, raising them in a clean tank will elevate the flavor.
These fish grow quickly but can live in tanks with other fish as long as there is enough space for them all. Carp live best with koi and goldfish, which are like their cousins. As long as carp are not in the same tank as predatory fish, they can live for years and provide a stable environment for your aquaponics system.
Goldfish are ornamental fish, not edible, but they provide great benefits for everything else that lives in the tank. They eat a large portion of other fishes’ excretions and create nitrates for the plants.
While goldfish are not carnivores, single-tailed goldfish are more aggressive than twin-tailed goldfish, so the two types should not live together. Goldfish can live in waters that range from 50°F to 75°F so that they can be in the same system as the non-carnivorous fish from this list.
Catfish are an excellent choice for aquaponics beginners because they don’t need specific water temperatures or pH levels and thrive in warmer waters. They are also resistant to most diseases and parasites, making them safe to eat.
These fish are bottom feeders, so if you’re raising catfish, it’s ideal to have a tank that is longer than it is deep. Catfish aren’t territorial, making it safe to keep them in the same tank with tilapia and bluegills.
Catfish are a popular fish to eat because they have a sweet, mild taste. They grow relatively fast in captivity, reaching one pound in about three months. Catfish farming is legal around the world, so they’re most likely readily available in your area.
Tilapia are ideal for small- and medium-scale aquaponics systems because they adapt quickly to their environment. They don’t need perfectly balanced water conditions to thrive, as long as the water temperature stays above 55°F.
Tilapia eat both plants and animal-based feed while being resistant to various pathogens and parasites. They can be harvested for food when they are six to nine months old, depending on the conditions they live in and how much they have been fed.
Trout prefer colder water, so if you live in a cooler climate, they are a great choice for your system. They are very sturdy fish that can live in freshwater, saltwater, and other aquatic environments.
Trout grow very slowly in the wild, at a rate of about one pound every four years. They eat a carnivorous diet, even in an aquaponics system. This means they can’t be kept with other fish because the trout might eat them.
While trout are relatively low maintenance fish, you’ll have to carefully research what plants can live in the water due to the cooler temperatures. To keep your aquaponics system active, you might choose to raise trout during the cooler months and tilapia during the warmer months.
You can add different types of bass to your aquaponics tank, including largemouth, smallmouth, hybrid striped, and white bass. If you live near a lake or pond, you can fish for them and then add your catches to your system.
Bass don’t need to eat a lot of protein, so you can feed them worms, insects, or fish food pellets. They grow quickly and should be ready to eat within a year. Different bass types have slightly different tastes, but all have firm white flesh with few bones, making them a popular type of fish to eat.
If you’re looking for a delicious, healthy fish to eat, growing salmon in your aquaponics system is an excellent benefit for you. Since they grow so large, you’ll need to keep them in a bigger tank. They will reach full size in about two years.
Salmon prefer cooler water but can live with other fish who also thrive in colder temperatures as long as they have enough space for their size. Since salmon are more likely to contract diseases than other fish, it is ideal to keep them in a regulated environment.
Because of the time and resources required to cultivate salmon, they’re not recommended for aquaponics beginners. However, if you’re willing to learn and put in the effort, raising your own salmon can save you a fortune compared to grocery costs.
In the wild, pacu lives in rainforests and jungles, so if you add them to your aquaponics tank, you’ll need to keep the water warm. Since warmer water causes oxygen deprivation, you’ll need an air pump for your pacu tank.
Pacu fish can live for over twenty years in captivity, but they can be harvested when they are a year old. Their flesh gets firmer as they age, so eating them while they’re younger yields better taste and texture.
While pacu looks like piranhas, they are not carnivores. They will eat plants and green vegetables that grow in the tank and grow to be very large—longer than two feet and over forty pounds!
Though pacus don’t eat fish, it’s not advisable to raise them with other fish, mostly due to their size. For all of these reasons, pacus are a better choice for those more experienced with aquaponics.
Ornamentals for Honorable Mention
If you want to eat the fish and plants from your aquaponic system, you want to stock mostly edible fish. However, like goldfish and koi mentioned above, ornamental fish can provide great benefits for your ecosystem.
Ornamental fish that are ideal for aquaponics systems include:
- Guppies eat whatever’s available to them, so they can help balance your aquaponics system. Though they’re not edible, they frequently reproduce, so you can sell any extra fish.
- Tetras. The most popular tetras for aquaponics systems are neon, diamond, cardinal, glowlight, and serpae. They love warm water, but larger warm water fish will eat them if left alone together.
- Angelfish are graceful swimmers that add a layer of visual interest to your aquaponics system. They prefer warmer water and need plenty of space in which to swim.
You might also be interested in reading the related articles:
- Most Colorful Freshwater and Aquarium Fish
- Most Expensive Fish for Aquariums
- Most Insane Aquariums and Expensive Fish Tanks
As you populate your tank, make sure you have all the space needed to house the fish once they have grown full-size. You will also want to consider if your chosen fish can reproduce in captivity and how you will handle the offspring.
While these fish are all great choices to raise in your aquaponics system, your options will ultimately depend on where you live, the climate, and the legality of owning some of these fish.