Fish health and care are critical and essential to the overall health and function of an aquaponics system. Understanding your fish needs is an integral part of running a successful aquaponics system because if the fish are unhealthy, waste production slows, which can result in poor plant growth and poor harvest.
Keeping your fish healthy and free from diseases will go a long way towards ensuring that your system is running smoothly. This article discusses the key aspects of fish health in aquaponics, including the methods on how to manage and prevent fish diseases.
Caring for Fish in Aquaponics
Just like with plants, it is best to wait until the system is cycled, and the biofilter is fully functioning before adding fish to your aquaponics system. There are several important factors that you should consider in caring for fish in your aquaponics. These factors are:
1. Fish Selection
Choose the best fish species that are suitable for your system, climate, and location. The most common fish used in aquaponics are tilapia, carp, barramundi, jade perch, catfish, trout cod, salmon, and bass. It is also important to know of your local fisheries regulation because not all fish are legal to be purchase and grown in some locations.
2. Acclimating Fish
The fish must be properly acclimatized to the new water to avoid fish stress. To acclimatize the fish, slowly allow the temperature to balance by floating the sealed transportation bags with the fish inside in the fish tank. Do this for 15 minutes and add a small amount of water from the tank to the transport water with the fish to slowly acclimate the fish. This should only take at least 15 minutes, and then you can add the fish in the fish tank.
3. Fish Feeding
The fish feed ratio provides a way to balance the components of an aquaponics system. Fish feed rates vary according to the growth stage of the fish.
- The recommended fish feeding rate during the grow-out stages is 1 to 2 percent of their body weight per day. So, if the fish stocking density is 10 to 20 kg per 264 gallons, you need to provide 200 g of fish feed per day.
- Small fish (like 50 g tilapia fingerling) during the first two to three months eat about 3 percent of their body weight per day. So if you have an initial stocking of 40 fingerlings and weigh 2000 g together, they will consume approximately 60 g of fish feed per day.
- After two to three months, the feeding rate will be 80 to 100 g fish feed per day. (It is because the 40 fingerlings will have grown to 80 to 100 g each and the total weight will be 3200 to 4000 g)
Fish Health and Behavior
The primary indicator of fish health in your aquaponics system is their behavior. It is essential to recognize the behavior of your fish and look for signs of fish stress, disease, and parasites to maintain healthy fish.
Here are some important ways of maintaining healthy fish in your aquaponics system:
1. Observe fish both before and after their daily feeding and take note of how much feed is eaten.
2. Observe and take notes of the fish behavior and appearance daily.
3. Understand the signs of fish stress, disease, and parasites.
4. Maintain a low-stress environment for the fish with consistent good water quality, specific for the fish in the system.
5. Use the right stocking density and feeding rates.
Healthy Fish Behavior
Healthy fish in your system shows the following behavior:
1. Extended fins and straight tails.
2. A graceful pattern of swimming. No lethargy. However, catfish sleep at the bottom of the fish tank often until they wake up and begin feeding.
3. A healthy appetite and not shying away at the presence of the feeder.
4. No marks, discolored blotches, streaks or lines.
5. Not rubbing or scraping on the sides of the fish tank.
6. Sharp, clear, and shiny eyes.
Fish Diseases in Aquaponics
Several conditions can cause fish health problems in your aquaponics system; these are fish disease, parasites, fungus, and bacteria. These can all appear in your fish tank and quickly spread disastrous effects on the fish. The chance of fish disease or stress is especially high when you introduce new fish or add new water to your system as new fish might have brought diseases with them.
Prevention is the best way to prevent disease in fish, and being able to recognize the signs of fish diseases can help you avoid loss of fish in your aquaponics system. In preventing fish disease, it is important to check your fish regularly for any of the following signs:
- Check their appearance regularly because several parasitic and fungal infections can be visible to the fish skin, scales, or fins.
Most external signs of disease are:1. Ulcers on the body surface, discolored patches, and white or black spots.
2. Fin rot, ragged fins, or exposed fin rays.
3. Abnormal body configuration, twisted spine, and deformed claws.
4. Swollen appearance and cotton-like lesions on the body.
5. Exophthalmia or swollen popped eyes.
- Check for change of behavior such as your fish become lethargic, refuse to eat or change in feeding habits and change of swimming patterns. Odd position in water, head or tail down, difficulty in maintaining buoyancy, and fish are gasping at the surface.
- If your fish looks bloated or their scales seem to be raised, it also indicates health concern.
Causes of Fish Disease
Fish diseases can be introduced by adding new fish, poor water quality, live food, invertebrates, or equipment used in the system. Like other animals, fish also carry bacteria, viruses, fungus, and parasites. Though not all of these bacteria are harmful, some of these microorganisms called pathogens have the potential to cause fish diseases.
The following factors can cause fish disease in your aquaponics system.
- Adding new fish in the system
- Environment or poor water quality
- Fish stress
- A poor or unbalanced diet
- Equipment used in the system is not suitable for the fish
- Not getting along with other fish species in the fish tank
Common Fish Diseases
1. Fish Fungus
Also known as cotton wool disease or fuzzy fish, the fish fungus looks like a cotton-like growth on the skin or fins. Fungal spores are common in poorly maintained tanks, poor water conditions, or damage tissues of the fish from wounds.
Symptoms of Fish Fungus
- Abnormal behavior
- Open sores
- Cotton-like growths on the body (white, brown or gray color)
- Bruised-looking and reddish eyes.
The first and important thing you need to do is a water test to establish if poor water conditions cause fish disease. If there are other problems such as ammonia and nitrite levels, then you need to ensure that ammonia and nitrite levels are within its ideal range.
2. Fish Stress
Stress can be detrimental to fish, just as it is for humans. Prolonged fish stress can result in bad health outcomes.
Stress in fish can be caused by:
- Fast temperature changes or temperature is outside of the ideal range.
- Poor water quality, pH, high nitrate, nitrite, and ammonia levels.
- Bullying by other fish in the fish tank
- Low dissolved oxygen, pump failure or power outages
Symptoms of Fish Stress:
- Fish are skittish and easily disturbed.
- Gasping at the surface
- Poor Appetite
- Strange swimming patterns
- Rubbing or scraping at the sides of the tank
- Physical Injuries
- Improper fish handling
- Improper feeding
- overcrowding in the fish tank
Avoid and Treat Fish Stress by:
- Cleaning and maintaining the water quality in your system.
- If your system has visible solids in the water, fit a filter or settlement tank.
- Feed fish with correct feeding rates and remove uneaten fish food after feeding.
- Ensure that your system is within the parameters for pH, ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates.
- Ensure enough aeration.
- If there is an identifiable fish bully in the tank, remove the bully fish.
- Minimize scooping the fish out of the tank for inspection (only do this if necessary) and reduce the frequency of opening and closing the lid of the tank
- Treat the disease immediately once identified.
3. Nitrite Poisoning
A new aquaponics system is more vulnerable to nitrite poisoning, especially when they are not yet correctly colonized by beneficial bacteria. However, nitrite poisoning is not just limited to new systems; established aquaponics systems can have nitrite poisoning when the nitrites level goes over six ppm.
Nitrites poisoning can be caused by:
- Overfeeding the fish
- Improper filter maintenance
- Washing the grow bed because it also washes away bacteria
Symptoms of Nitrite Poisoning:
- Difficulty breathing
- Darker gills
- Tan or brown gills.
- Faster gill movement
- Swimming near the surface
- Redness around the eyes and fins
Treatment of Nitrite Poisoning:
Lower the nitrite level in the fish tank by:
- Change 25 - 50% of the water in the fish tank with good quality water and keep changing the water until the ammonia and nitrite level is zero.
- Stop or reduce feeding, and do not add new fish to the fish tank until the ammonia and nitrite levels are at the normal levels.
- Remove uneaten fish food and clean the fish tank.
- Ensure that the tank has enough aeration or add an extra aerator to the system.
- Adding half an ounce of salt for each gallon of water can prevent methemoglobin build up. It will also minimize nitrite's influence to strip oxygen from the bloodstream. It is suggested that 1lb of salt is an effective dosage for 150 gallons of water. But as salt does not evaporate, be careful to note down when and how much salt you have added to your tank.
How to Prevent Fish Diseases
1. Purchase healthy fish from a reliable and reputable fish supplier.
2. Quarantine new fish in a separate fish tank before introducing them into an established fish tank.
3. Feed the fish with a proper, varied, and well-balanced diet.
4. Keep the water quality of your system clean at all times and ensure that it is within the key water quality parameters of pH, ammonia, nitrites, nitrates, and temperature of your fish.
5. Ensure enough aeration to keep DO as high as possible.
6. Remove uneaten fish food from the tank.
7. Ensure that the water is from a good source, clean and free of chlorine.
8. Make sure that the fish tank is in an excellent shaded place.
9. Follow the standard hygiene procedure by washing hands and using clean gears or equipment.
10. Treat the disease as soon as it is identified.
Fish health in your aquaponics system may also be affected by improper salinity, too much aeration, and lack of food. However, with the use of proper aeration and the right fish food, these factors will not affect the health of your fish.
In managing fish health in your aquaponics system, it is important to keep your water within its parameters, give your fish the right fish food and follow the aquaponics maintenance tips. Thank you for reading and subscribe to our newsletter for more aquaponics updates.