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Towards commercial aquaponics: a review of systems, designs, scales and nomenclature

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Aquaponics is rapidly developing as the need for sustainable food production increases and freshwater and phosphorous reserves shrink. Starting from small-scale operations, aquaponics is at the brink of commercialization, attracting investment. Arising from integrated freshwater aquaculture, a variety of methods and system designs has developed that focus either on fish or plant production. Public interest in aquaponics has increased dramatically in recent years, in line with the trend towards more integrated value chains, greater productivity and less harmful environmental impact compared to other production systems. New business models are opening up, with new customers and markets, and with this expansion comes the potential for confusion, misunderstanding and deception. New stakeholders require guidelines and detail concerning the different system designs and their potentials. We provide a definitive definition of aquaponics, where the majority (> 50%) of nutrients sustaining the optimal plant growth derives from waste originating from feeding aquatic organisms, classify the available integrated aquaculture and aquaponics (open, domestic, demonstration, commercial) systems and designs, distinguish four different scales of production (≤ 50, > 50–≤ 100 m2, > 100–≤ 500 m2, > 500 m2) and present a definite nomenclature for aquaponics and aquaponic farming allowing distinctions between the technologies that are in use. This enables authorities, customers, producers and all other stakeholders to distinguish between the various systems, to better understand their potentials and constraints and to set priorities for business and regulations in order to transition RAS or already integrated aquaculture into commercial aquaponic systems.

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This review is a product of COST Action FA1305 ‘The EU Aquaponics Hub: Realising Sustainable Integrated Fish and Vegetable Production for the EU’. We thank the Ministry of Agriculture, Environment and Consumer Protection of Mecklenburg Western Pomerania and EIP-AGRI operational groups for supporting research in aquaponic fish and plant production (‘Aquaponik in MV’, BNRZD: 13 903 000 0103; WM-EIP-0007-15). Financial support was provided by the Leibniz Association within the scope of the Leibniz Science Campus Phosphorus Research Rostock (SAS-2015-IOW-LWC). This project was supported through the pilot project ‘FishGlassHouse: Innovationsinitiative zur ressourceneffizienten Nahrungsmittelproduktion in MV’ (European Fisheries Fund-EFF, grant number VI-560/730-32616-2013/025).

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Harry W. Palm and Ulrich Knaus wrote most parts of the manuscript. The paper was then jointly developed during the COST Action FA1305, with valuable inputs and participation of the other authors. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Harry W. Palm.

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Palm, H.W., Knaus, U., Appelbaum, S. et al. Towards commercial aquaponics: a review of systems, designs, scales and nomenclature. Aquacult Int 26, 813–842 (2018).

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