Local Self-Reliance: Home Fish Farming

The idea of home fish farming is an attractive one to country and city folk alike, but it's still an expensive proposition.

| November/December 1979


Commercial aquaculture is too capital intensive for small home fish farming operations, but technology and cultivation procedures are always improving.


Home fish farming as a means of producing a supply of inexpensive protein is an enticing idea to urban and rural dwellers alike, especially now that overfishing (coupled with the pollution of many spawning and feeding areas) has led to higher seafood prices.

Fish can , of course, be grown in basements (as Dr. Fernwood Mitchell proved when he raised rainbow trout in his Washington, D.C. cellar). Such closed systems, however, require perpetual filtering and aeration of the water, constant temperature control, and regular supplemental feedings... and they'll only be worthwhile when transportation expenses become so high that basement growing, with all of its costs, becomes economically competitive with our present commercial fisheries.

On the other hand, not all aquaculture is as intensive and financially prohibitive as are basement systems. Ocean ranching is a good example of the other "fin farming" extreme. Salmon hatcheries on our northeastern and northwestern coasts release millions of juveniles each year, fish that are subsequently harvested by both commercial boats and sports anglers. (The Lummi Indians of Bellingham, Washington—who use their trout and salmon hatcheries as a spur to encourage community economic development—produce nearly five million fingerlings a year.)

In addition, there's an extension of ocean ranching—a system that's appropriate for a wider variety of species—in which the juveniles are released into a partially enclosed environment that can receive some management. Known as parc culture, this system was initially developed to grow oysters in Brittany's tidal flats, but is now being used in many American shellfish beds. For more mobile forms of marine life, gates can be used to retain the finned groups in the "cropped" bay, tidal flat, or whatever.

Raft culture provides still another fish farming alternative. By growing mussel colonies on rafts anchored in the middle of an unpolluted estuary, Ed Meyers of Damariscotta, Maine is able to raise the shellfish for less than 20¢ a pound!

Cage culture is an even more intensive method: The cultured organisms are enclosed in either plastic mesh or bamboo cages which are, in turn, secured in a large natural body of water.
However, it's pond systems that have been—and still are—the basic aquacultural unit throughout the world ranging from Africa's tilapia/carp polyculture to the rather intensive catfish farming of North America. This type of aquaculture—which is midway between extensive and intensive farming—is likely to remain the most widely used system, because it incorporates some of the advantages of each extreme.

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