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Thorarinsdottir (2015) identified ten pilot aquaponic units in Europe, approximately half of which were at the stage of setting up still rather small-scale systems for commercial production. Villarroel et al. (2016) estimated that the number of aquaponic commercial enterprises in Europe comprised approximately 20 companies. Currently, Villarroel (2017) identifies 52 research organisations (universities, vocational schools, research institutes) and 45 commercial enterprises in Europe. Only a handful of these, however, sell aquaponic produce and could be considered as an aquaponic farm. In 2016, as a spin-off from the COST FA1305 project, the Association of Commercial Aquaponics Companies (ACAC 2018) was founded, currently involving 25 companies from all over Europe, only about a third of which focuses on food production. Others offer mostly aquaponics-related services such as engineering and consulting (Thorarinsdottir 2015).
In the remainder of this chapter, we focus on the in-depth information from the few operating aquaponic systems in Europe. Within the time of the COST action (2014—2018), a number of organisations started and tested their first marketing attempts at commercial food production with the goal of making the sales of produce as their main income. We have gathered data with three in-depth qualitative methods: (a) site visits, (b) SME presentations at the COST FA 1305 conference (date, place) and (c) semi-structured in-depth interviews.
Within the COST FA1305 project, three European pilot aquaponic systems opened their doors for site visits of COST members:
Ponika, Slovenia, Matej Leskovec (site visit made on 23 March 2016).
UrbanFarmers AG, system in the Netherlands, Andreas Graber (site visit made on 6 September 2016).
Tilamur, Spain, Mariano Vidal (site visit made on 20 April 2017).
Within the site visits, we asked questions about the type and size of the system, the initial investment, the types of fish and crops produced and the reasoning behind it and the selling experiences.
COST FA1305 organised a special conference devoted to presentations of aquaponics SMEs in Europe at the International Conference on Aquaponics SMEs at the University of Murcia (ES) (19 April 2017). We only analysed the presentations and answers to questions from SMEs that presented their experiences with their own commercial aquaponics system:
We made additional follow-up semi-structured in-depth interviews with the aquaponics SMEs, contacting also other European aquaponic producers, some of which declined to participate.
The final interviewers were:
ECF, Germany: Christian Echternacht (interview made on 13 February 2018)
NerBreen, Spain: Fernando Sustaeta (interview made on 7 April 2018)
Ponika, Slovenia: Maja Turnsek (interview made on 30 January 2018)
Samraekt Laugarmyri, Iceland: Ragnheidur Thorarinsdottir (interview made on 19 February 18)
Uit Je Eigen Stad, Netherlands: Ivo Haenen (interview made on 8 February 2018)
The average interview lasted approx. 60 min. and included questions on the reasons for choosing aquaponics, type and size of the system, produce and fish type, experiences with growing, distribution and price, future plans and outlook for commercial aquaponics in the future. Below we will present the results together with the literature review on each of the areas of discussion (Table 18.4).