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Aquaponics – an organic production system?

May 24, 2016

Aquaculture, including aquatic animal and plant production, as well as plants grown under aquaponics systems, will soon be integrated to the Organic Products Regulations (OPR). The OPR will reference the Organic Aquaculture Standard with which aquaculturists have to comply to have their products certified and labeled as organic.




Aquaponics combines aquaculture with the cultivation of plants in a symbiotic relationship. Fish manure as well as feed waste are metabolized by bacteria and absorbed by plants grown on the surface of the aquaculture tank. When absorbing nutrients, plants also filter the water that is recirculated in the system.




Principles guiding organic aquaculture and aquaponics are similar to the principles established in organic agriculture production: GMOs, synthetic growth regulators, antibiotics, clones and other synthetic substances are prohibited.

But, there is also a significant difference. The roots of terrestrial plants grown in aquaponics systems are immersed in water. This contradicts clause 7.5.3 of the agricultural organic standard, CAN/CGSB-32.310-2015, which prohibits hydroponics and promotes soil fertility management, rather than the ‘cultivation of plants in aqueous nutrient solutions without the aid of the soil’ (Terms and definitions -3.29).

The OFC wants to know your opinion. Is aquaponics different from hydroponics?

Does organic lettuce grown in water in symbiosis with cultured fish meet organic consumer expectations?  How can we reconcile the marketing of a the same product certified under two different organic standards that have contradictory clauses?









27 Comments leave one →
  1. Susan Linkletter permalink
    May 29, 2016 7:36 am

    Aquaponics and hydroponics, if they can be done without the use of chemicals in a closed system should be considered for a separate organic label developed exclusively for soil-less production – like certified organic salmon. My bigger problem with aquaponics is that the raw uncomposted excreta of fish is used and absorbed into the growing produce. It really doesnt seem very appetizing to me and it makes me wonder if its safe to consume. Can you get sick from eating this stuff? We know that water contaminated with bacteria that cause human illness is absorbed into the lettuce intact and cannot be washed off before consumption. Does aquaponic produce carry the same risk? I don’t know.

    • David Jones permalink
      June 4, 2016 1:25 am

      I voted against organic salmon and the adoption of the salmon as organic fish due to the unsustainability of growing a meat eater that consumes 2 to 4 pounds of fish per pound of flesh ,and also because of the sourcing of the fish feed ,not counting the amount of antibiotics and the other chemical use ,and now this information of massive disease is coming out ,.How can you certify fish if you can’t certify the input ,organic salmon was all about money not organics , as far as aquaponics is concerned ,if a vegetarian feed can be used then I see no problem ,but the main fish to grow is tilapia because tilapia can survive well on a 100 % organic vegetarian feed ,and this type of feed has been developed as announced in 2008 to the government of New Brunswick ,this then led to the wrongful conviction of me in a 5 year judicial procedure .

      David Jones
      Moncton NB

      The first Canadian Science researcher to be convicted of doing the science that I had a written agreement to do. signed by a national committee

      • June 20, 2016 6:16 am

        Good to heart from you David, you are definately a pioneer in this field. I think that tilapia fed an organic grain diet should be certifiable as organic but I agree that there is nothing organic about farmed salmon. Organic label or not, I wont eat it.

  2. Justin Henry permalink
    June 28, 2016 12:13 pm

    Regarding the question “How can we reconcile the marketing of a the same product certified under two different organic standards that have contradictory clauses?”, I believe that is done often. That is why equivalency is negotiated. For every country with which Canada has negotiated equivalency, farmers using that country’s organic standard can have organically labelled products in Canada, even though their standard may have clauses that contradict clauses in the Canadian standard. Overall, the standards are deemed close enough.

    • November 28, 2016 9:29 am

      I disagree with you totally ,and that is why I voted no ,The misinformation and the provable criminal activity surrounding farmed feedlot salmon needs to come to the public .attention ,stemming right from the formation after the cod collapse ,30 years later after billions spent ,fish are still diseased and dying on a large scale

  3. June 29, 2016 1:46 pm

    Hi Susan, fish excrements do not contain the dangerous strain of E-coli that warm blooded animals carry. Although fish solid waste is not dangerous, in aquaponics it is usually passed through a bioreactor which acts as a composter which mineralises the nutrients in order to allow plants to better absorb them. The contaminated lettuce that you are talking about is usually caused by e-coli found in warm blooded animal manures spread on soils that did not stand long enough to kill the e-coli, or by human contamination to the crop.

    Marc Laberge

    • July 7, 2016 11:15 pm

      No but they can contain salmonella, listeria, botulism and other toxins as well as diseases found in fish.

    • November 29, 2016 5:09 pm

      in reply to Marc
      like so many foods we eat
      What kind of answer is that ,so I have to assume that it is fine

  4. June 29, 2016 2:18 pm

    Hi David, a very good point. Being a commercial salmonid aquaponic farmer, I am excited about the new protein sources that are being tried and soon be available. My feed company talks about a sustainable fish feed which is great but I too, as well as many fish farmers, am concerned about our oceans and what we are leaving our kids. Alternative protein sources will be a game changer.

    Marc Laberge

  5. June 29, 2016 2:53 pm

    Aquaponics is a form of Freshwater Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture (FIMTA) that combines animal aquaculture and plant culture, through a microbial link and in a symbiotic relationship. It uses microbes to convert organic wastes produced by the fish into inorganic nutrients that are then consumed by plants, which also absorb inorganic nutrients that are available directly. This technology can be adapted to many fish- and plant species, in a range of growing conditions, and with a variety of techniques, including the floating raft and media-filled bed techniques.

    Please see the following article:

    Click to access Chopin%20et%20al%202016%20Hatchery%20International%20FIMTA%20HR.pdf

    • November 28, 2016 9:35 am

      Thierry is that why you and Shawn Robinson did nothing to help with my systems ,why did you deny any science help ,Why ,mandated and legislated ,Oh is it because all your research went for cooke

      • November 29, 2016 5:12 pm

        oh ,is it possible that your partners in feedlot salmon farming
        Is it true that there are residuals in kelp from all the antibiotics and vaccines and pesticides ,a food product ?

  6. June 30, 2016 7:20 am

    Aquaponics and hydroponics are the same thing. Both should be allowed if they can be done organically. What is the difference between having a plant broken down by a fish, then the excrement fed to plants in a water system and the plants broken down by bacteria with end end product fed to plants hydroponically? There is no difference, both require bacteria and plants, aquaponics just throws in a fish.

    • July 2, 2016 10:39 am

      Aquaponics and hydroponics are definitely not at all the same thing; that fish that you talk about that has been ” thrown” in the system does a lot more than you may think. First of all, that fish weather carnivorous or not is usually one of the highest performing fish of its species. The trout that I farm are extremely efficient at converting their feed; all female sterile fish that do not waste any energy on egg production, on fleeing predators, on searching and chasing their prey, on swimming up rivers, let’s not even go into the fuel required to catch these fish, their focus is on schooling behaviour and eating. I would bet my farm that if you compare the amount of fish required to produce a 1 Kg wild salmon vs the amount of fish required to produce a 1 Kg farm salmon, the difference would be overwhelmingly higher for the wild salmon.

      As to carnivorous fish vs non carnivorous fish, this is the world we live in, we are carnivores, the demand is there for trout and salmon like it or not. Much research has been done to replace the fish feed protein in carnivorous feeds with plant protein ( as you are well aware of I am sure ) without great success, but new technology is popping up every year. When I eat my trout I feel good knowing that it was raised in the most sustainable way available to farmers today.

      As to hydroponics vs aquaponics, that fish provides not only the basis of this eco-system which represents planet earth which used to be almost all ocean, but supplies a constant source of natural fertilizers in both solid and soluble form, depending on the aquaponic design. Water is the bases of life on planet earth, without it we would not be here; this whole debate about soil being organic and water not, is ridiculous, if anything, soil organics is piggy-backing on water organics; try growing a plant without soil, then try growing it without water… Getting back to why fish are so important in aquaponics, much talk is done on the solids produced by the fish; some designs remove it from the system, some use it via a bioreactor which transforms the solids to nutrients. Having been in the aquaponic farming for over 20 years, I can say that the main source of nutrients comes from the soluble form of the fish waste. This is where 80% of nitrates come from and roughly 25% of phosphates. This is what makes all the difference, try to duplicate this in a hydroponic system in a natural way, without resorting to unnatural ways of getting nitrates into your water. The natural soluble nitrates are constantly being released and made available to the plants. Of course one could argue in a backyard system maybe…I am talking about commercial systems that feed cities, commercial systems that can finally provide chemical free, safe fish and plants in a professional manner.

      I believe in organics, in chemical free foods without antibiotics, I believe that the term organic has outgrown its original definition of “saving soil for future generations” into something we are all desperately seeking: safe food without the use of pesticides or chemicals. We all know about those business farms that are only concerned about profits and will use almost anything to get them. Change is here, man is continuously evolving, perfecting things, aquaponics, although has been perfected in the last few decades, is not something new, it is a return to basics, to the first types of eco-systems of this planet. To question whether aquaponics fits into the organic loop is to question whether our existence fits into this organic loop.

      Marc Laberge

      • November 28, 2016 9:36 am

        The demand is there thru misinformation and millions in advertising paid for by the taxpayers

      • November 29, 2016 5:17 pm

        yes much work has been done on proteins ,such as putting melamine in the fish feed ,just like the pets ,

  7. July 3, 2016 6:55 am

    Bottom line is this Marc, organic matter is broken down by bacteria to provide nutrients to plants in both aquaponica and hydroponics. So both should be certifiable as organic. If I can grow my own plants which I can turn into hydroponic nutrients why can’t I certify that as organic? Why allow one and not the other?

  8. July 7, 2016 9:40 am

    Interesting; a compost juicer. This is what I mean about backyard small units; in a commercial set-up this compost juicer would have to be huge. To maintain quality control of the inputs and outputs of this system on a commercial level sounds like a nightmare.The benefits of this juicer vs having a fish facility that feeds people, utilises its own renewable resource waste, does not pollute, utilises this symbiotic relationship, produces free fertilizers in a controlled manner, are questionable. As to whether it can be certifiable organic? I do not think it can be compared to an aquaponic system for one, as to organic status, it may be difficult for reasons of quality control of the organic inputs, but the biological basics are there.

    • July 7, 2016 11:17 pm

      I am a small commercial set-up that produces 400 heads of lettuce a month. If aquaponics is certifiable, hydroponics with all organic inputs should also be certifiable.

    • david jones permalink
      March 21, 2019 8:05 pm

      Organic aquaculture standards of feed input where of big concern by the people and it was passed with the premise that organic feed would follow ,this has not happened yet ,years later and it seems that the same players want to piggy back off of organic aquaculture and certify aquaponics using a incomplete standard that still has not been fixed ..In other words it really will not matter what the fish are fed so why even have any type of standard ..people need to get away from the chicken scraps and feathers that can come from anywhere

  9. Thierry permalink
    December 10, 2018 4:05 pm

    À mon avis, l’aquaponie est une technique biologique, quoi de plus naturel que de nourrir ses plantes avec les déchets de poissons? C’est, il me semble, la base d’un écosystème! Je suis toutefois d’accord que pour certifier un système aquaponique comme biologique, les poissons devrait être soumis aux mêmes règles que les autres animaux d’élevage au niveau de l’alimentation et des soins médicaux. Je crois qu’il serait pertinant de se pencher sur l’élaboration d’une norme biologique pour l’aquaponie. De plus, je crois que l’aquaponie pourrait être une bonne alternative aux systèmes d’élevage traditionnaux (ex: le bétail) pour subvenir aux besoins croissance de la population en nourriture.

    • David Jones permalink
      March 3, 2019 12:00 pm

      Would you not call aquaponic’s Integrated Multi Trophic Aquaculture ?

      • Thierry Chopin permalink
        March 3, 2019 12:11 pm

        Yes, it is a variation on the overarching theme of Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture (IMTA). As it is mostly operating in freshwater, I call it Freshwater IMTA, or FIMTA

      • David Jones permalink
        March 21, 2019 7:47 pm

        I have to wonder since you have been with cimtan why you have not contacted me as according to DFO Canada.( this so far has been undisputed ) I am the first research and development in aquaponics in Canada using a top world strain of tilapia Also the first in Canada to announce a 100% organic feed for tilapia and plants ,this organic feed is completely plant and algae based .Thus the prodigy is organic and has been for some time .What is it that cimtan really does lol


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