Aquaponics: A Growing Hobby

Aquaponics: A Growing Hobby

There has been an increasing demand by clientele for information and training on small-scale food production methods to meet the growing demand for locally produced food and for personal consumption. One of the University of Florida Extension’s high-priority initiatives is “increasing the sustainability, profitability, and competitiveness of agricultural and horticultural enterprises.” One food production method currently being investigated is aquaponics.

Koi are a popular fish species used in aquaponic systems.
Photo: Laura Tiu

Aquaponics is a technique for sustainable food production that utilizes the combination of aquaculture with hydroponics to grow fish and vegetables without soil. The process begins with fish producing waste, which is then pumped through a bio-filter to convert into fertilizer for the plants. Plants use nutrients from that water, and the freshly oxygenated water is returned to the fish tank. By recirculating the water from the fish tank to the grow bed, the need for water is greatly reduced compared to traditional irrigation. Additionally, producing crops aquaponically can reduce leaching, runoff, and water discharges to the environment by reusing nutrient effluent from aquaculture and hydroponic systems.

For new growers, being able to have access to training and to see a demonstration unit can eliminate many of the pitfalls typically encountered. A small aquaponics system, using local-sourced materials, is being constructed at the Walton County Extension office in DeFuniak Springs, FL.  This system will demonstrate the technology and capability of small-scale aquaponics. The system is expected to be operational in April 2017. Working together, the Sea Grant, Horticulture, and Agriculture agents will be able to share construction and operation information with interested clients.  Data will be collected from the system in order to give clientele real-world expectations of the operating costs and production potential from the system.  Information will be shared in face-to-face interactions, at workshops, via webinar and in published articles.  The goal is to see an increase in the number of aquaponics operations in the Panhandle of Florida contributing to an increase in availability of locally and sustainably produced food.

If you would like to see the system or learn more about aquaponics by subscribing to our Aquaponics list serve, please email Laura Tiu, lgtiu@ufl.edu.

Greens tend to do very well in aquaponic systems.
Photo: Laura Tiu

A panhandle favorite, tomatoes can be grown using aquaponics.
Photo: Laura Tiu

I’m so confused about seafood!

I’m so confused about seafood!

I’ve spent the past 25 years studying and growing fish. When folks find out I’m a fish head, I often get a lot of questions about the safety and sustainability of many seafood products.  It seems that the media and other groups have done a good job of scaring and confusing the American public to the point that some forgo consuming seafood altogether.  That is such a shame because seafood is great for human health. Seafood is typically high protein, low in fat and calories and bursting with good for you stuff like omega-3s.

Seafood is either wild caught, aquacultured (farm-raised), or both. Both wild fisheries and aquaculture have their pros and cons.  Overfishing, illegal fishing, bycatch, habitat degradation and lack of effective regulation have led to declines in wild fisheries.  Aquaculture has been plagued with claims of pollution, disease and escapees.  With all this negative press, what is the consumer to do?

You can choose your seafood based on its sustainability. Sustainable seafood has been caught or farmed in sustainable ways.  And there are several groups today that make choosing these sustainable product easy.  Once such group is the Monterrey Bay Aquarium.  Their Seafood Watch program makes it easy for you to choose seafood that’s fished or farmed in ways that have less impact on the environment.

Using science-based criteria and input from fisheries and aquaculture experts, Seafood Watch has developed standards and guiding principles to develop consumer friendly guides. The guides are specific to each state and there is even one for sushi.  These printable guides fit easily into your wallet so that you can use them anytime you purchase seafood.  The guide shows with seafood items are “Best Choices” or “Good Alternatives,” and which ones you should “Avoid.”  They also have an app for android and IPhone making it easier than ever to get the latest recommendations for seafood and sushi, learn more about the seafood you eat, and locate or share businesses that serve sustainable seafood.

As consumers, we have a lot of power in the seafood marketplace. With over 75% of the world’s fisheries either fully fished or overfished, we need to make smart choices about the seafood we buy and consume.  By supporting fisheries and fish farms that are working hard to limit their impact on the environment we help protect the seafood we love.  By using the seafood guide for your region, you’re making choices based on the best available information and supporting environmentally friendly fisheries and aquaculture operations.

Brotula's Restaurant in Destin, Florida will cook your fresh catch to perfection.

Brotula’s Restaurant in Destin, Florida will cook your fresh catch to perfection.

 

The Autumn Journey of Red Drum

The Autumn Journey of Red Drum

Red Drum are easily identified by their false eyespot located on the tail. Often, the tail and false eyespot break the water surface when red drum feed in shallow water. Shrimp and crabs are favorite food items of hungry red drum. Photo courtesy of NOAA. http://www.photolib.noaa.gov

Red Drum are easily identified by their false eyespot located on the tail. Often, the tail and false eyespot break the water surface when red drum feed in shallow water. Shrimp and crabs are favorite food items of hungry red drum. Photo courtesy of NOAA. http://www.photolib.noaa.gov

Cool mornings this week reminded everyone fall is just around the corner. This subtle change in temperature inspires many of us to behave differently. It’s actually enjoyable to be outside again. Now, it’s easier to relax and drink a morning cup of pumpkin spice coffee on the porch or maybe take a brisk evening walk. These slightly cooler days not only announce the end of the dog days of summer but cue the natural world.

One of the most fascinating stories in nature unfolds this time of year. Red Drum or Redfish (Sciaenops ocellatus) are some of the most well-known and easily identified predators of the bay flats and marshes – But did you know these prized game fish can tell time? They don’t have calendars or watches but sense changes in water temperature and to the length of daylight : night time hours. Our calendar says September while their calendar says time to feed, migrate, and reproduce.

In the fish world, reproduction is known as spawning. It takes about three to four growing seasons for a red drum to mature and spawn. A mature four-year-old fish is about 28-inches in total length from head to tip of the tail. This size fish is critical to the continuation of the red drum population. This is one of the main reasons why fisheries managers regulate the number of 27 or 28-inch red drum caught. Limiting the number of this size redfish supports sustainable recruitment so there will be fish for years to come. Learn more about red drum fishing regulations by visiting Florida Fish and Wildlife at http://myfwc.com/fishing/saltwater/recreational/red-drum

When mature, red drum leave the nursery grounds of back bays and bayous and move to inlets and passes. This time of year, groups of spawning red drum may occur in entrances of the bay.

Notable members of Sciaenid or drum fish family include red drum, black drum, Atlantic croaker, and seatrout. Males have muscle fibers they vibrate against their swim bladder. The swim bladder is a hollow air filled sac fish use for buoyancy or depth control. When the muscle “strikes” the hollow sac a drum or drumming noise is created. The larger the fish the greater potential for noise. Male red drum often drum while spawning which generally occurs from sunset to sunrise.

In red drum hatcheries, light and temperature mimic the outside world and control spawning to support stock enhancement programs. In the hatchery, the drumming noise is loud and sounds like a bass drum being struck in rapid succession for about 10 seconds and then repeated. In the natural environment, Sciaenid drumming is so distinctive that researchers use hydrophones to locate and study fish species like seatrout and red drum.

While some fish species take care of their young and produce a few nurtured offspring, red drum overwhelm the odds of survival through shear numbers. During the two month spawning season, red drum spawning aggregations can produce millions of eggs each night. According to Louisiana Sea Grant, one female red drum can produce 1.5 million eggs in one night or 20-40 million per female each spawning season!

Spawning also occurs at the height of tropical storm season. Red drum eggs float on a tiny droplet of biologically produced oil that can be carried long distances by wind, waves, and water. In successful recruitment years, eggs and hatching red drum larvae make a journey into the most protected and productive portions of the bay or estuary in less than a week. Seagrass and submerged shoreline grass provide cover and protection. After rain and storms, adjacent land provides nutrients that naturally fertilize the bay waters. In response, algae and zooplankton bloom just in time to create the perfect first fish food for hatching red drum. The timing of red drum reproduction and survival is precise and elegant!

Juvenile red drum spend their next three to four-years growing to spawning adults, before migrating and starting the reproduction cycle over again.

Quick Facts: According to Texas Parks and Wildlife the oldest red drum ever recorded is 37 years old. The state record in Florida for red drum landed is just over 52 pounds and was caught near Cocoa in Brevard County, FL. A red drum caught in 1984 off the North Carolina coast holds the world record for largest red drum ever caught, 94 pounds!

An Equal Opportunity Institution. UF/IFAS Extension, University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension. Single copies of UF/IFAS Extension publications (excluding 4-H and youth publications) are available free to Florida residents from county UF/IFAS Extension offices.

NISAW 2016 – Tiger Prawn (Penaeus monodon) “Lions in the Gulf and Tigers in the Bay”

NISAW 2016 – Tiger Prawn (Penaeus monodon) “Lions in the Gulf and Tigers in the Bay”

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Five tiger shrimp captured by shrimpers in Pensacola Bay.

Five tiger shrimp captured by shrimpers in Pensacola Bay.

Giant Tiger Prawn (Penaeus monodon):

This catchy phrase coined by Robert Turpin (Escambia County Marine Resources Division) describes a recent invader to our marine waters in the past decade. Many coastal residents are aware of the invasive lionfish that has invaded our local reefs but less have probably heard of the Asian Tiger Shrimp. This member of the penaeid shrimp family, the same family are edible white, brown, and pink shrimp come from, was brought to the United States in the 1960’s and 70’s as an aquaculture project. Over the years farmers have moved from Tiger Shrimp to the Pacific White Shrimp and the last known active farm was in 2004.

The Asian Tiger Shrimp can reach lengths of 12"

The Asian Tiger Shrimp can reach lengths of 12″

In 1988, two thousand of these shrimp were lost from a farm in South Carolina during a flood event. Only 10% of those were recaptured and some were collected as far away as Cape Canaveral. No more was heard from this release until 2006 when 6 were captured; one of those in Mississippi Sound near Dauphin Island. Each year since the number of reported captures has increased suggesting they are breeding.

In the Panhandle, one individual was caught in 2011 near Panama City and 5 were collected in 2012 in Pensacola Bay. They have been found in all Gulf coast states and there has been at least 1 record in each of the Florida Panhandle counties. The future impact of this shrimp to our area is still unknown but they have a high tolerance for salinity change and consume many types of benthic invertebrates. Tiger shrimp may out compete our native penaeid shrimps and could possibly feed directly on the juveniles.  It is thought that they could possibly transmit diseases to our native shrimp.

 

Giant Tiger Prawn: This large shrimp, also known as the Asian Tiger Shrimp and the Black Tiger Shrimp, can reach lengths between 8-12 inches.  It resembles are native edible penaeid shrimp but differs in that it has distinct black and yellow stripes.

NOAA scientists are interested in obtaining samples of this shrimp for DNA studies. It differs from other local penaid shrimp in that it is larger (8-12” long), dark in color (dark green to black) and has light stripes (white to cream colored). The larva and juveniles live in the bay. Sub adults will migrate offshore for breeding. They are a tropical species that have a low tolerance for cold temperatures, showing no growth below 20°C. If you think you have found one of these shrimp, record size location (GPS preferred), and email information to ExoticReports@MyFWC.com.  You can also report to EDDMapS using the website or I’ve Got One! phone app. To learn more about Tiger Prawns view the USGS factsheet.

The nonnative Giant Tiger Prawn - also known as the Black Tiger Shrimp. Photo by David Knott, Bugwood.org

The nonnative Giant Tiger Prawn – also known as the Black Tiger Shrimp. Photo by David Knott, Bugwood.org