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The major sources of nutrients in an aquaponic system are the fish feed and the water added (containing Mg, Ca, S) (see Sect. 9.3.2.) into the system (Delaide et al. 2017; Schmautz et al. 2016) as further elaborated in Chap. 13. With respect to fish feed, there are two main types: fishmeal-based and plant-based feed. Fishmeal is the classic type of feed used in aquaculture where lipids and proteins rely on fish meal and fish oil (Geay et al. 2011). However, for some time now, concerns regarding the sustainability of such feed have been raised and attention drawn towards plant-based diets (Boyd 2015; Davidson et al. 2013; Hua and Bureau 2012; Tacon and Metian 2008). A meta-analysis conducted by Hua and Bureau (2012) revealed that the use of plant proteins in fish feed can influence the growth of fish if incorporated in high proportions. Indeed, plant proteins can have an impact on the digestibility and levels of anti-nutritional factors of the feed. In particular, phosphorus originating from plants and thus in the form of phytates does not benefit, for example, salmon, trout and several other fish species (Timmons and Ebeling 2013). It is not surprising that this observation is highly dependent on the fish species and on the quality of the ingredients (Hua and Bureau 2012). However, little is known of the impact of varying fish feed composition on crop yields (Yildiz et al. 2017).
Classical fish feed is composed of 6—8 macro ingredients and contains 6—8% organic nitrogen, 1.2% organic phosphorus and 40—45% organic carbon (Timmons and Ebeling 2013) with around 25% protein for herbivorous or omnivorous fish and around 55% protein for carnivorous fish (Boyd 2015). Lipids can be fish or plant based as well (Boyd 2015).
Fig. 9.1 Environmental flow of nitrogen and phosphorus in % for (a) Nile Tilapia cage production (after Neto and Ostrensky 2015) and (b) RAS production (from a variety of sources)
Once fish feed is added into the system, a substantial part of it is eaten by the fish and either used for growth and metabolism or excreted as soluble and solid faeces, while the rest of the given feed decays in the tanks (Goddek et al. 2015; Schneider et al. 2004) (Fig. 9.1). In this case, the feed leftovers and metabolic products are partly dissolved in the aquaponic water, thus enabling the plants to uptake nutrients directly from the aquaponic solution (Schmautz et al. 2016).
In most cultivation systems (Chaps. 7 and 8), nutrients can be added to complement the aquaponic solution and ensure a better matching with the plants' needs (Goddek et al. 2015). Indeed, even when the system is coupled, it is possible to add iron or potassium (which are often lacking) without harming the fish (Schmautz et al. 2016).
Ideally, all the given feed should be consumed by the fish (Fig. 9.1). However, a small part (less than 5% (Yogev et al. 2016)) is often left to decompose in the system and contributes to the nutrient load of the water (Losordo et al. 1998; Roosta and Hamidpour 2013; Schmautz et al. 2016), thus consuming dissolved oxygen and releasing carbon dioxide and ammonia (Losordo et al. 1998), amongst other things. The composition of fish feed leftovers depends on the composition of the feed.
Logically enough, the composition of fish faeces depends on the fish's diet which also has an impact on the water quality (Buzby and Lin 2014; Goddek et al. 2015). However, the nutrient retention in fish biomass is highly dependent on fish species, feeding levels, feed composition, fish size and system temperature (Schneider et al. 2004). At higher temperatures, for example, fish metabolism is accelerated and thus results in more nutrients contained in the solid fraction of the faeces (Turcios and Papenbrock 2014). The proportion of excreted nutrients also depends on the quality and digestibility of the diet (Buzby and Lin 2014). The digestibility of the fish feed, the size of the faeces and the settling ratio should be carefully considered to ensure a good balance in the system and to maximise crop yields (Yildiz et al. 2017). Indeed, while it is a priority that fish feed should carefully be chosen to suit fish needs, the feed components could also be selected to suit plant's requirements when it makes no difference to fish (Goddek et al. 2015; Licamele 2009; Seawright et al. 1998).