Raising Fish For Food

I love fish. It’s good healthy protein. Not too bright, usually easy to catch, and really tasty.  I love to fish, it’s a peaceful pastime with a low cost of entry. Hell, you can dig the “ammo” out of the ground.   I highly recommend people include fishing line and hooks in their Bug Out Bag’s if they live in an area with good fishing.

Sadly, since moving to Iowa, I’ve mostly stopped fishing.  Most of the waterways here are impaired, disgustingly so. Environment groups that studied the federal government’s toxic release inventory issued a report a few months ago, “Wasting Our Waterways” (available online), indicating that industrial facilities discharged – both legally and illegally – more than 6.2 million pounds of toxic chemicals into Iowa’s waterways in 2010.

According to the report, Iowa ranked 15th in the nation for waterway discharges. Nationally, about 226 million pounds of toxic chemicals were discharged into 1,400 waterways.

I have no desire to eat fish swimming through discharges of cancer-causing chemicals, chemicals that persist in the environment, and chemicals with the potential to cause reproductive problems ranging from birth defects to reduced fertility. Among the toxic chemicals discharged by facilities are arsenic, mercury, and benzene.

Anyone living along the Mississippi River? It ranked second for total toxic discharges nationally, with 1,874,430 pounds of toxic materials released in Iowa and overall 12.7 million pounds dumped from facilities all along its course through 10 U.S. states.

That’s gross.

Where should we get our fish Calamity?

I’m glad you asked.  As with most other things, I highly recommend you raise your own.

What you want is a nice little aquaculture set up.  If you set it up in a building, you can raise fish all winter. All you need is a tank or tub that holds at least 100 gallons of water, some baby fish, and some feed. Water could be free if you set up to catch rain. Baby fish (called fry, or fingerlings, depending on size) can be found at state fish nurseries, or online through vendors who cater to aquaculture setups. I highly recommend Tilapia, as that’s what I have experience with. It’s tasty, it grows to a good size in a short time and is fairly hardy. Stay away from tuna, cod, salmon or striped bass, they all feed off of other fish, so if you don’t have a good low cost source for trash fish, it just becomes too expensive to fee them. Fish food can be bought online, or you can make your own, especially if you go with some of the traditional aquaculture fishes like catfish, carp and milkfish as they are herbivores or omnivores.

But wait, there’s more!

The nutrient rich fish-poop-water is perfect for veggies. If you think you can handle the balancing act, aquaponics can provide large quantities of veggies in conjunction with the fish.

Aquaponics is a sustainable food production system that combines a traditional aquaculture (raising aquatic animals such as fish, crayfish or prawns in tanks) with hydroponics (cultivating plants in water) in a symbiotic environment.

Thank you wiki.  I know, that’s a lot of big words, but the key point here is that the fish water is high in nitrogen, you send that through the hydroponic veggie setup and the nitrogen loving plants “eat” the nitrogen and return oxygen rich water to the fish. Around and around it goes.

It does take a bit of monitoring to keep everything in balance. Specifically you’ll need a way to measure nitrites and ammonia levels.  I also remember keeping track of pH and dissolved oxygen, but that could be because of the educational environment.

Speaking of education, a setup is HIGHLY educational, if you enjoy biological sciences, or have children who need science project material, you can’t go wrong with some aquaponics.  Children can help create a cheap biofilter, they can help track the levels, they can help with harvest and processing.

Solar dehydrators or salting could help with storage,  if freezer space is limited. If you can’t store all of the fish harvest, I’m sure you could sell/barter/trade high quality fresh fish.

Anybody else dabbled in aquaculture or aquaponics? Share your experience, tips, tools in the comments!

– Calamity Jane

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