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Aquaculture, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is the "breeding, rearing, and harvesting of fish, shellfish, algae, and other organisms in all types of water environments". Aquaponics, a subset of aquaculture, is where fish and plants are grown together using recirculating water.

Maintaining fish health is imperative to running a successful aquaponic operation. According to Ruth Francis-Floyd from the University of Florida, "fish health management is a term used in aquaculture to describe management practices which are designed to prevent fish disease. Once fish get sick, it can be difficult to salvage them". The premise of fish health management is preventative and proactive, not reactive. Maintaining detailed water quality records and observing your fish will give you the best chance of limiting disease in your systems.

Recording physical and chemical tests to prevent further fish diseases and improve fish health

It is important to record any physical observations and chemical tests taken from your systems. Characteristics you can physically observe that point to low water quality include large sediment loads, excess food, foul-smelling water, biofilm buildups, and abnormal fish behavior.

Large, unremoved sediment loads originate from overfeeding and fish waste. The food and waste are sources of ammonia that can throw off your water quality, leading to high ammonia readings that will adversely affect the fish.

Foul-smelling water indicates decomposition that could come from fish or plants. In an article published in 2002, Rodney Donlan cites that biofilms, or bacteria that grow in a slimy film on a surface within your aquaponic system, harbor pathogens that should be removed.

Abnormal fish behavior includes limited appetite, swimming incorrectly, hanging around at the surface, and a low inhibition to humans. Outward appearances could be but are not limited to lesions, discoloration, popeye, and fin rot.

Testing the chemical composition of your fish farm water

Regularly testing the chemical composition of your water is imperative to establishing trends in water quality and maintaining fish health. Trends can alert you to potential issues and allow extra time for mitigating the problem before die-offs occur.

Water quality and fish health are directly linked. If you have no records, it is difficult to determine why fish are being affected. Keeping detailed records can show if certain events or trends triggered these deaths.

Common fish diseases found in fish farms

The United States Department of Agriculture 2018 Census of Aquaculture outlines that fish species typically used in commercial aquaponic systems include various types of tilapia, bass, catfish, trout, and shrimp. Chapter 11 of Aquaponics Fish Diseases and Illnesses cites that common diseases affecting fish in aquaponic systems are Ichthyophthirius, Vibrosis, and Dactylogyrus.

If you routinely observe your fish and record any abnormalities, you will recognize trends and signs of disease early on. This early alert will give your fish the best chance of survival.

Ichthyophthirius, or white spot disease, causes white patches of fuzz to develop on the exterior of the fish on the scales, fins, and gills. This disease spreads from fish to fish through overcrowding tanks. Another Francis-Floyd et al. article highlights symptoms of this disease that include "pale and swollen gills, suppressed appetite, and sluggish behavior". 

Vibriosis infection is triggered when a fish's immune system is lowered due to stress or injury. This warm water disease moves quickly and can cause sudden death. Aquaponics Fish Diseases and Illnesses says that other symptoms of infection include suppressed appetite, the fish's color darkening, and internal bleeding. Dactylogyrus spreads through fish-to-fish contact or contaminated water reports PetMD.

Symptoms of this disease, according to Aquaponics Fish Diseases and Illnesses, include "pale gills, gasping for air, crowding at the inlet for freshwater, and weight loss that leaves the head of the fish visibly too large for their bodies". 

Another more species-specific disease is bacterial catfish disease. Chitmanat et al., who are researchers from Thailand, found that Aeromonas hydrophila and Flavobacterium columnare affect catfish in freshwater aquaponics systems. Stressors causing an infection, according to Zhou et al., are " high stocking density, improper transport, polluted water, and wound infection". The same Chitmamat et al. study shows that maintaining water quality by removing excess food and waste results in reduced ammonia and fish stress levels (Chitmanat, 2015). These diseases are only a few examples of pathogens found in aquaponic systems. A variety of other species-specific diseases possess the ability to harm your fish if introduced to the system.

Fish health in Aquaponics system

Keeping your fish healthy and disease-free is essential to maintaining a successful aquaponic operation. We are a company that supplies growers with the expertise and technologies to boost awareness of what is happening within your system. One specific issue Aquaponic AI strives to address is monitoring fish health. Collecting daily and weekly data using our platform can help you keep your fish healthy.

We offer various tools that can help manage your data collection process with ease. You can manually input your data on a computer, through an application on your phone, or incorporate sensors into your aquaponic system for hands-off water quality monitoring.

The notebook feature offers a secure location to store your data as it automatically backs up to the cloud. Examples of specific notebooks for tracking water quality include dissolved oxygen, nitrates, nitrites, PH, total ammonia nitrogen, and water temperature.

Additionally, you can use your notebooks to set up system parameters where the program will alert you if any water quality levels pass certain thresholds. Auto-generated graphs depicting data trends appear on your overview dashboard. This technology facilitates easy understanding of complex topics and the immediate application of your data.

These quick results can help you make informed decisions about water quality and fish health and take preventative measures against the spread of disease. 

Ultimately, fish health is directly tied to water quality. Preventative measures are the best way to keep your system disease-free. General and species-specific diseases can cause large-scale fish to die-offs and affect what fish you can take to market. We'd be thrilled for you to test our our solution to outdated paper and pen data collection methods. Our custom notebooks offer a variety of data input methods, allowing you to choose what to monitor. Let us help save you time, streamline your farm, and provide a clear picture of what is happening in your aquaponic systems.

Julianne Grenn

M.S. Graduate Student

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