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Aquaponics is not only at the nexus of different technologies but also at the nexus of different regulatory and policy fields. While it may provide solutions to various sustainability goals, it seems to fall in the cracks between established legal and political categories. To add to the complexity, the development of aquaponics is affected by regulation from different levels of government. For example, facilitation of urban agriculture has to come from the national or even subnational level, as the EU has no competence in planning law. Major regulatory incentives for the implementation of aquaponic technology could probably be set in water law, which falls under national and EU competence. Implementation of aquaponics could gain significant traction, if aquaculture operations had the obligation or at least financial incentives to deal with wastewater themselves. However this would require a major change in the current regulatory approach.

In the theory on technological innovation systems (TIS), an "institutional alignment" in the formative phase of a TIS is seen as critical. Only if institutions are sufficiently aligned will markets form and provide space for entrepreneurial experimentation to determine commercially viable paths for implementing the technology (Bergek et al. 2008). For institutional alignment to take place, the proponents of the new technology need to be sufficiently organized to contribute to a process of "legitimation" of their technology (Koenig et al. 2018).

As a first step, we therefore recommend that proponents reach out, create, and strengthen links to various stakeholders and among themselves in the relevant professional communities in order to build a case for making aquaponics a legitimate activity. The newly founded EU Aquaponics Association could play a large role in this process. A further step could be the development of certifiable standards in cooperation with established certification systems. With the current lack of a coherent legal framework, such standards would give producers, consumers, administrators, and other relevant parties (e.g., outside investors or insurers, who doubt the safety of aquaponic products) a framework for understanding quality and risks. Such standards could be adapted flexibly to the practical demands of producers. Eventually formal regulations could build on such standards, as they do in other regulatory domains.

On the European level, stakeholders should push for greater recognition of the potential benefits of aquaponics in different policy areas. The EU must provide critical financial support, since commercial implementation of aquaponics is still in its infancy. The EU should also provide a forum for the exchange of best practices for regulatory issues such as construction and wastewater that fall under the competence of member states.

On the national level, stakeholders have to push for a coherent and accessible regulatory framework that is adapted to the realities of modern aquaculture and sets incentives for "creative ecology." Significant advances might even be realized on a subnational level, where political resistance may be overcome more easily. Further research should concentrate on the regulatory strategies of different countries to identify best practices.

Aquaponics Food Production Systems


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