How to Raise Catfish in an Aquaponics Systems

Among the many fish species that thrive in aquaponics systems, catfish stand out as an excellent choice because of their fast growth and adaptability. They can tolerate a large variation in water temperatures, are not territorial, and breed ‌quickly, making them very suitable for aquaponics.

This blog will discuss everything you need to know about raising catfish in aquaponics systems. Hopefully, by the end of this blog, you'll be well-versed in setting up and maintaining an aquaponics system that produces fresh, organic vegetables and provides a source of delicious and nutritious catfish.

Why Raise Catfish in Aquaponics Systems?

Catfish is another fish option if you are a beginner to aquaponics or looking for another fish species to include in your aquaponics system. Catfish are often farmed because they adapt well to fish tanks and can survive in different water conditions. Here are some benefits of raising catfish in aquaponics system:

  1. Catfish produce nutrient-rich waste, which serves as an excellent source of fertilizer for plants in the system.
  2. Catfish are delicious and versatile fish for culinary purposes.
  3. Catfish are known for their ability to thrive with minimal intervention which makes them ideal for aquaponics beginners.
  4. Catfish are not territorial, so they can live with other fish in the tank.
  5. Catfish are hardy and can tolerate higher dissolved oxygen, temperature, and pH levels.

The Best Catfish Varieties for Aquaponics Systems

Most catfish species thrive in aquaponics because they can quickly adapt to different environmental conditions. However, the three species listed below are the best varieties for aquaponics systems. These catfish varieties grow well in aquaponics systems and provide optimum nutrients to plants if their growing requirements are met.


Channel Catfish

Channel Catfish

Growth rate: 1 pound within six months
Feeding time:Once a day
Water temperature:75-85°F (24-29°)
pH range:7-8.5

Channel catfish are a popular choice for aquaponics because of their hardiness and rapid growth. This variety produces tender and good-tasting meat. The color of the channel catfish will depend on the water it lives in. The channel catfish will be dark or almost black if the water is clear. If the water is murky, the catfish will have a yellow color. 

Eel Tailed Catfish

Eel Tailed Catfish

Growth rate: 1 pound within 18 months
Feeding time:Once a day
Water temperature:59-79°F (15-26°C)
pH range:6.5-7.5

Eel-tailed catfish are another excellent catfish variety for aquaponics. This variety is omnivorous and bottom feeders. They can be fed with sinking fish pellets and alternative fish food like worms and leftover vegetables. The color of eel-tailed catfish is mottled black and gray, which can change into brownish red, olive green, or brownish purple when they mature.

Brown Bullhead Catfish

Brown Bullhead Catfish

Growth rate: 1.1 pounds within two years
Feeding time: Once or twice a day
Water temperature:65-75°F (18-24°C)
pH range: 5-7

Compared to the other two varieties of catfish mentioned above, the brown bullhead catfish mature more slowly but are still hardy and grow well in the aquaponics system. This catfish variety has an olive/brown color that fades to cream on its belly. The brown bullhead catfish will taste muddy when grown in unclean water. 

The channel and eel-tailed catfish grow faster at high temperatures and can be stocked in high densities. The brown bullhead catfish's growth rate is not as quick as the other two. 

Factors to Consider When Choosing the Right Catfish Species

In raising catfish in tanks, consider the following factors:

  • Climate and Water Temperature: Different catfish species have different temperature requirements. Ensure your chosen species can thrive in your region's climate and water temperature.
  • Growth Rate: If you aim to harvest catfish quickly, select a species known for its rapid growth. Slower-growing species may be better if you have a longer-term perspective.
  • Diet and Feeding Habits: Some catfish species have specific dietary preferences. Consider whether the feed available in your system is compatible with the catfish species you choose.
  • Water Quality Tolerance: Each species tolerates factors like pH, dissolved oxygen levels, and ammonia. Ensure your system's water quality parameters align with the species' requirements.
  • Market Demand: If you plan to sell your catfish, research the local market demand for different catfish species to ensure profitability.
  • Regulations: Be aware of any local or regional regulations that may impact your choice of catfish species for aquaponics.

Matching Catfish to Your Aquaponics Setup

Follow these steps in ensuring your catfish species are match to your aquaponics system.

  1. Assess Your System: Evaluate the specific conditions and constraints of your aquaponics system, such as tank size, water quality, and available resources.
  2. Research Catfish Species: Research the characteristics, requirements, and growth potential of various catfish species to identify which ones align best with your system.
  3. Consult Local Experts: Seek advice from local aquaponics experts, agricultural extension offices, or fish farmers who have experience with catfish in aquaponics.
  4. Consider Your Goals: Determine your primary goals, whether they are rapid growth, sustainability, or high-quality fish for personal consumption, and choose a species accordingly.
  5. Plan for Diversity: Some aquaponics enthusiasts opt for a mix of catfish species to diversify their harvest and mitigate potential risks associated with a single species.

Growing Requirements for Catfish in Aquaponics

  1. Water Temperature: The ideal water temperature for aquaponics catfish is between 65°F and 75°F (18°C - 23°C). 
  2. pH: The ideal pH range for catfish in aquaponics systems is between 5 and 7.
  3. Oxygen Requirements: Catfish need dissolved oxygen concentration of at least five mg/L and above.
  4. Light Requirements: Catfish need sunlight to warm the water in the tank. However, they also like to hide, so provide some shade for your fish tank to keep your catfish happy.
  5. Stocking Density: The ideal stocking density depends on various factors, such as the size of your fish tank and grow beds. As a general guideline, you can start with around 1 to 2 catfish per 10 gallons (38 liters) of water. 
  6. Tank Size: Catfish can grow up to three pounds, so you need a larger fish tank.
  7. Dietary Requirements: Catfish require high-protein foods. Commercial pellets fish food for catfish are available, but you can also feed them with worms, smaller fish, and left-over vegetables.
  8. Feeding Frequency: Feed your catfish three times a day as much as they can eat in five minutes and remove any leftover food after five minutes. 
  9. Suitable Fish Species for Mixed Breeding in the Tank: Catfish have been known to coexist with tilapia, koi, and crappie.

How to Introduce Catfish Into Your System

You can purchase catfish fingerlings from your local pet shop, or farm supplier. To add catfish into your fish tank, place the bag of unopened fingerlings inside the tank to allow the fish to adjust to the change in water temperature. Leave the bag unopened for a few hours or overnight, then open the bag to allow the fish to swim into the tank.

Catfish Disease Prevention and Control in Aquaponics

  • Quarantine Procedures: Before introducing new catfish into your aquaponics system, quarantine them separately to observe for any signs of disease. This helps prevent the spread of illnesses to the main system.
  • Biosecurity Measures: Implement biosecurity practices to minimize the risk of disease introduction. This includes proper sanitation of equipment, tools, and materials.
  • Vigilant Observation: Regularly inspect your catfish for signs of illness, such as changes in behavior, skin lesions, or unusual growths. Early detection can lead to more successful disease control.
  • Isolation and Treatment: If you identify a sick fish, promptly isolate it in a separate tank for treatment. Consult with a veterinarian or aquaculture expert for proper diagnosis and treatment options.

1.Regular System Maintenance

  • Cleaning: Routine cleaning of tanks and filters is essential to prevent the buildup of waste and harmful bacteria. Regularly remove uneaten feed and debris from the system.
  • Water Changes: Periodic partial water changes help to maintain water quality by diluting excess nutrients and maintaining stable nitrate levels. The frequency of water changes may vary depending on the size of the system and stocking density.
  • Equipment Checks: Inspect and maintain all equipment, such as pumps, aeration systems, and filters, to ensure they function correctly. Regular maintenance prevents system failures.
  • Plant Care: In aquaponics, plantsplay a vital role in water filtration and nutrient uptake. Regularly tend to your plants, ensure they are healthy, and adjust their numbers or types if necessary.
  • Record Keeping: Maintain records of water quality parameters, feed quantities, and observations of your catfish. This data can help identify trends and potential issues.

2.Dealing with Overcrowding

Overcrowding can stress fish, lead to disease, and compromise water quality. To address overcrowding:

  • Assess Stocking Density: Calculate the maximum stocking density based on your system's size and filtration capacity. Ensure it aligns with the needs of your fish and plants.
  • Remove Excess Fish: If you've exceeded the recommended stocking density, consider removing excess fish. Harvest or relocate them to maintain a balanced ecosystem.
  • Optimize Feeding: Adjust your feeding regimen to match the carrying capacity of your system. Avoid overfeeding, which can lead to excess waste and poor water quality.
  • Expand Your System: If overcrowding is a persistent issue, consider expanding your aquaponics system to accommodate more fish and plants.

Feeding Catfish in Aquaponics Systems

Feeding is crucial to ensuring their health and growth. Catfish have specific nutritional requirements, which is essential for a successful aquaponics setup. Here's an in-depth look at how to feed catfish in aquaponics:

1.Appropriate Catfish Feed Options

  • Commercial Pelleted Feeds: Commercial pelleted feeds are readily available and come in various formulations to meet the nutritional needs of catfish. These feeds are designed to float on the water surface, making it easy for catfish to access them.
  • Supplementary Feeds: In an aquaponics system, catfish can consume supplemental feeds from insects, worms, and aquatic plants. These natural food sources can enhance their diet.
  • Homemade Feed Mixes: Some aquaponics enthusiasts choose to create their catfish feed using ingredients like fish meal, soybean meal, corn, and other grains. However, formulating a balanced homemade diet requires expertise.

2.Feeding Strategies and Schedules

  • Frequency: Catfish are typically fed 1-2 times daily. Ensure the total daily feed intake doesn't exceed what the catfish can consume in a few minutes to prevent overfeeding and water quality issues.
  • Scheduling: Establish a regular feeding schedule to maintain consistency and prevent stress in catfish.
  • Monitoring: Keep a close eye on the catfish while feeding to ensure they eat actively. If some fish are consistently not eating, it may indicate health issues or overfeeding.
  • Adjusting Diet: Depending on your catfish's age and growth stage, you may need to adjust the protein content and feed formulation.


Catfish Fingerlings in Aquaponics

Harvesting Catfish

1. Determining When Catfish are Ready for Harvest

Knowing when your catfish are ready for harvest ensures the best taste and quality. Here's how to determine when they are ready:

  • Size: Catfish typically reach market size at around 1 to 1.5 pounds (0.45 to 0.68 kilograms), but this can vary depending on the specific catfish variety. Check the growth rate and size specifications for your chosen catfish species.
  • Weight and Age: If you've been tracking the weight and age of your catfish, you can use this data as a reference. Mature catfish should have reached the target weight for your market.
  • Visual Inspection: Observe the appearance of your catfish. Mature catfish usually have well-developed bodies, firm flesh, and vibrant skin. They should have reached the desired market size.

2.Methods for Harvesting

  When your catfish are ready for harvest, use these methods for a successful and stress-free process:

  • Hand Net or Dip Net: Use a hand net or dip net to catch the catfish one by one gently. Be careful not to injure them during the capture.
  • Harvest Traps: Some systems incorporate harvest traps or cages that can be raised to the surface, allowing for easier catfish collection.
  • Manual Catching: For smaller systems or when catching individual fish, you can manually see them one by one using your hands or nets.


Catfish farming in tanks in an aquaponics system is a rewarding and sustainable endeavor that combines the benefits of fish farming with plant cultivation. As you embark on your catfish aquaponics journey, remember that success requires patience, knowledge, and dedication. By applying the principles and techniques explored in this blog, you can create a sustainable and thriving aquaponics ecosystem that provides a bountiful harvest and contributes to a healthier planet through sustainable agriculture practices. Whether you're a hobbyist or a commercial aquaponics enthusiast, the journey of raising catfish in an aquaponics system offers a unique and fulfilling experience.


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