How to keep fish on the menu and salad on the plate

A nouveau system with ancient roots—greenhouse aquaponics provides the highest quality fish and crustaceans in a self-sustaining closed loop system with virtually no environmental impact.  Never before has fish farming tasted so clean.

Fish. Bacteria. Plants. No waste, no pollution. Sound simple enough?  After watching chef Dan Barber’s TED Talk on the future of sustainable seafood I was inspired to learn more about self-sustaining fish farms around the globe.  With overfished, oil- and mercury-tainted waters, the search for safe and ethical seafood has become a taxing process for chefs and pescetarians alike.  In order to keep fish on the menu, Barber has traveled the globe to find seafood that he can consciously stand behind.

At Barber’s Michelin-Star New York City restaurant, shrimp, sea bass, mullet and meager are sourced from an algae- and plankton-rich reclaimed marshland in Southern Spain.  The fish farm reversed a series of drainage channels that a cattle ranch had previously used, thereby bringing water, and life, from the nearby micronutrient-rich Guadalquivir River back into the once dead marshland.

Chef Barber’s beloved fish from Veta la Palma fish farm in Spain. (

Chef Barber’s beloved fish from Veta la Palma fish farm in Spain. (

While this example of fish farming has successfully established a self-sustaining ecosystem for fish, microorganisms, plants and birds I couldn’t help but think about the 3,600 miles of transportation cost to deliver the fish to NYC.  So what’s a fish-lover to do?  How about bring the whole system to New York City?

Greenhouse aquaponics makes not only sustainable seafood, but also sustainable agriculture possible just about anywhere.  Aquaponics is a farming method that has been around since the ancient Eqyptians based on the recycling of nutrients in nature.  Like the sustainable fish farm in Southern Spain, aquaponics is a closed loop self-sustaining system where fish, plants and bacteria live together in symbiosis.  The fish eat fish food and produce waste, which is then used to fertilize the plants—essentially a combination of modern hydroponic agriculture and aquaculture.  The plants are a natural biofilter for the fish waste, with beneficial bacteria in the gravel and on the roots recycling the waste and providing nutrients to be taken up by the plants while purifying the water.  Including earthworms in an aquaponics system allow for the metabolization of fish waste solids, old plants and food scraps from humans as well.  And all of this can happen in a greenhouse—virtually anywhere.

Greenhouse aquaponics rewards growers with year round vegetables and fish on a regular basis.  The system is naturally resilient but any sort of pesticide, insecticide and herbicide can kill the fish and destroy the balance of the system.  Depending on local climate and season, a wide array of fish and crustaceans can be used in an aquaponic greenhouse: Rainbow Trout, Barramundi, Perch, Tilapia, Catfish, Carp, Goldfish, Koi, Cod, and fresh water mussels, prawns and crayfish.  And as far as plants in the greenhouse, most anything can benefit from the incredibly nutrient-rich fish waste liquid fertilizer.

Growing food year round in any climate anywhere in the world IS the future of food and greenhouse aquaponics allows for the raising of food nearer to the consumer and consistently deliver a higher quality product.  Greenhouse aquaponics use less water and energy than conventional farming or even regular greenhouse growing, an essential component of any agriculture system in today’s world.  So there you have it Chef Barber, you can have your fish and eat it too, along with your vegetables, all conducted within miles of your New York City restaurant.

About Amy Elvidge

Amy Elvidge is a Masters of Science candidate at Tufts Friedman School of Nutritional Science and Policy with a focus of Agriculture, Food and the Environment. She is a Northern California native who appreciates locally sourced seasonal food and family and friends to share it with. You can find her at the farmers' market, riding her bike, picnicking with friends or studying at the library.

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