Recirculating Production Pond Inflows to Increase Production and Reduce Effluents on Small-Scale Fish Farms

Project Overview

Project Type: On-Farm Research
Funds awarded in 2004: $14,145.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2006
Region: Southern
State: Alabama
Principal Investigator:
David Cline
Alabama Cooperative Extension System

Annual Reports


  • Fruits: berries (other)
  • Animals: fish


  • Animal Production: manure management
  • Crop Production: nutrient cycling, organic fertilizers
  • Education and Training: demonstration, on-farm/ranch research
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, budgets/cost and returns, feasibility study
  • Sustainable Communities: sustainability measures

    Proposal abstract:

    Abstract/Problem Statement

    While there are vast water resources in the Piedmont region of Alabama, only a small percentage of these water resources are being used by farmers to grow fish. Most fish farms that are outside of the major production areas such as those in East Alabama are relatively small and require diversification and/or maximum use of their on-farm resources in order to remain viable. Most of these small farms primary fish crop is catfish. The current low prices for catfish and difficult economic position of large catfish farms have flooded the market with low priced catfish and make it more difficult for these small producers to survive. These farms with limited acreages and budgets have difficulty competing with larger “corporate/industrial” farms with deep pockets and are struggling to survive.

    Some fish farmers have access to spring water and flowing streams that could be used to intensify production and help them remain competitive. However, most farmers with spring water input have traditional water storage ponds (deeper than 10 feet) and much of this spring water is underutilized or just flows over the spillway. Several farmers, in an effort to further utilize this flowing water have built earthen raceways below their water storage ponds where they grow catfish and other species. This flowing water, along with aeration has allowed them to intensify their operations and help them remain competitive. Several have shown interest in recirculating this water back through the pond systems to "filter" it for reuse and to reduce or eliminate the water effluents from the farm and possibly integrate some secondary non-fish crops in the process.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    With guidance from University personnel and funding assistance from SARE the cooperating farmer can explore the economics of recirculating water through his pond systems and integrate secondary non-fish crops. This water recirculation will enhance and protect environmental quality, make the most of on-farm resources and reduce potentially nutrient enriched effluents. The metabolic by-products of fish culture need not be wasted if they can be channeled into secondary crops that have economic value or benefit the primary production system in some manner. Plants are an ideal secondary crop in integrated fish/plant systems because they grow rapidly in response to the high levels of nutrients that are generated form the microbial breakdown of fish wastes. By placing floating rafts of aquaponic plants in the most downstream pond and allowing any solids to settle, the recycled water should be quite suitable for fish culture by the time it passes through the large header pond above the raceways. Eventually the incoming water will fill all of the ponds to capacity. At this time an appropriate amount of nutrient enriched water from the system will be used to irrigate fruit and vegetable crops near the ponds. It is anticipated that this nutrient rich water will reduce the amount of fertilization required on the plant crops and serve as a steady source of water for irrigation.

    The in-flowing spring water will be divided into two approximately equal streams and run through two separate pond systems. Each incoming spring water stream will be directed to a large header pond (2-3 acres) and then distributed from the header pond into the raceway system. When the water reaches the bottom pond in this system, with the aquaponic plants, it will be allowed to settle and then be pumped back or gravity returned to the header pond to be recycled. ( see attached diagram) This particular project addresses issues related to items #2, #4, and #7 of the SARE producer grant focus areas.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.