AnnouncingFAO Manual on Aquaponics available now in resources!
FeaturesPricingSupportSign In

The recirculation system, step by step

2 months ago

32 min read

In a recirculation system it is necessary to treat the water continuously to remove the waste products excreted by the fish, and to add oxygen to keep the fish alive and well. A recirculation system is in fact quite simple. From the outlet of the fish tanks the water flows to a mechanical filter and further on to a biological filter before it is aerated and stripped of carbon dioxide and returned to the fish tanks. This is the basic principle of recirculation.

Several other facilities can be added, such as oxygenation with pure oxygen, ultraviolet light or ozone disinfection, automatic pH regulation, heat exchanging, denitrification, etc. depending on the exact requirements.


Figure 2.1 Principle drawing of a recirculation system. The basic water treatment system consists of mechanical filtration, biological treatment and aeration/ stripping. Further installations, such as oxygen enrichment or UV disinfection, can be added depending on the requirements.

Fish in a fish farm require feeding several times a day. The feed is eaten and digested by the fish and is used in the fish metabolism supplying energy and nourishment for growth and other physiological processes. Oxygen (O2) enters through the gills, and is needed to produce energy and to break down protein, whereby carbon dioxide (CO2) and ammonia (NH3) are produced as waste products. Undigested feed is excreted into the water as faeces, termed suspended solids (SS) and organic matter. Carbon dioxide and ammonia are excreted from the gills into the water. Thus fish consume oxygen and feed, and as a result the water in the system is polluted with faeces, carbon dioxide and ammonia.

Figure 2.2 Eating feed and using oxygen results in fish growth and excretion of waste products, such as carbon dioxide, ammonia and faeces.

Only dry feed can be recommended for use in a recirculation system. The use of trash fish in any form must be avoided as it will pollute the system heavily and infection with diseases is very likely. The use of dry feed is safe and also has the advantage of being designed to meet the exact biological needs of the fish. Dry feed is delivered in different pellet sizes suitable for any fish stage, and the ingredients in dry fish feed can be combined to develop special feeds for fry, brood stock, grow-out, etc.

In a recirculation system, a high utilization rate of the feed is beneficial as this will minimise the amount of excretion products thus lowering the impact on the water treatment system. In a professionally managed system, all the feed added will be eaten keeping the amount of uneaten feed to a minimum. The feed conversion rate (FCR), describing how many kilos of feed you use for every kilo of fish you produce, is improved, and the farmer gets a higher production yield and a lower impact on the filter system. Uneaten feed is a waste of money and results in an unnecessary load on the filter system. It should be noted that feeds especially suitable for use in recirculation systems are available. The composition of such feeds aims at maximising the uptake of protein in the fish thus minimising the excretion of ammonia into the water.

Pallet size Fish size, gram Protein Fat
3 mm 40 - 125 43% 27 %
4.5 mm 100 - 500 42 % 28 %
6.5 mm 400 - 1200 41 % 29 %
Composition, % 3.0 mm 4.5 mm 6.5 mm
Fishmeal 22 21 20
Fish oil 9 10 10
Rape seed oil 15 15 16
Haemoglobin meal 11 11 11
Peas 5 5 5
Soya 10 11 11
Wheat 12 11 11
Wheat gluten 5 5 5
Other protein concentrates 10 10 10
Vitamins, minerals, etc. 1 1 1

Figure 2.3 Ingredients and content of a trout feed suitable for use in a recirculation system. Source: BioMar.

Components in a recirculation system

Fish tanks

Tank properties Circular tank D-ended raceway Raceway type
Self-cleaning effect 5 4 3
Low residence time of particles 5 4 3
Oxygen control and regulation 5 5 4
Space utilization 2 4 5

Figure 2.4 Different tank designs give different properties and advantages. Rating 1-5, where 5 is the best.

The environment in the fish rearing tank must meet the needs of the fish, both in respect of water quality and tank design. Choosing the right tank design, such as size and shape, water depth, self-cleaning ability, etc. can have a considerable impact on the performance of the species reared.

If the fish is bottom dwelling, the need for tank surface area is most important, and the depth of water and the speed of the water current can be lowered (turbot, sole or other flatfish), whereas pelagic living species such as salmonids will benefit from larger water volumes and show improved performance at higher speeds of water.

In a circular tank, or in a square tank with cut corners, the water moves in a circular pattern making the whole water column of the tank move around the centre. The organic particles have a relatively short residence time of a few minutes, depending on tank size, due to this hydraulic pattern that gives a self-cleaning effect. A vertical inlet with horizontal adjustment is an efficient way of controlling the current in such tanks.

In a raceway the hydraulics have no positive effect on the removal of the particles. On the other hand, if a fish tank is stocked efficiently with fish, the self-cleaning effect of the tank design will depend more on the fish activity than on the tank design. The inclination of the tank bottom has little or no influence on the self-cleaning effect, but it will make complete draining easier when the tank is emptied.

Figure 2.5 An example of octagonal tank design in a recirculation system saving space yet achieving the good hydraulic effects of the circular tank. Source: AKVA group.

Circular tanks take up more space compared to raceways, which adds to the cost of constructing a building. By cutting off the corners of a square tank an octagonal tank design appears, which will give better space utilization than circular tanks, and at the same time the positive hydraulic effects of the circular tank are achieved (see figure 2.5). It is important to note that construction of large tanks will always favour the circular tank as this is the strongest design and the cheapest way of making a tank.

A hybrid tank type between the circular tank and the raceway called a “D-ended raceway” also combines the self-cleaning effect of the circular tank with the efficient space utilization of the raceway. However, in practice this type of tank is seldom used, presumably because the installation of the tank requires extra work and new routines in management.

Sufficient oxygen levels for fish welfare are important in fish farming and are usually kept high by increasing the oxygen level in the inlet water to the tank.

Direct injection of pure oxygen in the tank by the use of diffusers can also be used, but the efficiency is lower and more costly.

Control and regulation of oxygen levels in circular tanks or similar is relatively easy because the water column is constantly mixed making the oxygen content almost the same anywhere in the tank. This means that it is quite easy to keep the desired oxygen level in the tank. An oxygen probe placed near the tank outlet will give a good indication of the oxygen available. The time it takes for the probe to register the effect of oxygen being added to a circular tank will be relatively short. The probe must not be placed close to where pure oxygen is injected or where oxygen rich water is fed.


Figure 2.6 Circular tank, D-ended raceway, and raceway type.

In a raceway, however, the oxygen content will always be higher at the inlet and lower at the outlet, which also gives a different environment depending on where each fish is swimming. The oxygen probe for measuring the oxygen content of the water should always be placed in the area with the lowest oxygen content, which is near the outlet. This downstream oxygen gradient will make the regulation of oxygen more difficult as the time lag from adjusting the oxygen up or down at the inlet to the time this is measured at the outlet can be up to an hour. This situation may cause the oxygen to go up and down all the time instead of fluctuating around the selected level. Installation of modern oxygen control systems using algorithms and time constants will however prevent these unwanted fluctuations.

Tank outlets must be constructed for optimal removal of waste particles, and fitted with screens with suitable mesh sizes. Also, it must be easy to collect dead fish during the daily work routines.

Tanks are often fitted with sensors for water level, oxygen content and temperature for having complete control of the farm. It should also be considered to install diffusers for supplying oxygen directly into each tank in case of an emergency situation.

Figure 2.7 Drumfilter. Source: CM Aqua.

Mechanical filtration

Mechanical filtration of the outlet water from the fish tanks has proven to be the only practical solution for removal of the organic waste products. Today almost all recirculated fish farms filter the outlet water from the tanks in a so called microscreen fitted with a filter cloth of typically 40 to 100 microns. The drumfilter is by far the most commonly used type of microscreen, and the design ensures the gentle removal of particles.

Function of the drumfilter:

  1. Water to be filtered enters the drum.

  2. The water is filtered through the drum’s filter elements. The difference in water level inside/outside the drum is the driving force for the filtration.

  3. Solids are trapped on the filter elements and lifted to the backwash area by the rotation of the drum.

  4. Water from rinse nozzles is sprayed from the outside of the filter elements. The rejected organic material is washed out of the filter elements into the sludge tray.

  5. The sludge flows together with water by gravity out of the filter escaping the fish farm for external waste water treatment (see chapter 6).

Microscreen filtration has the following advantages:

  • Reduction of the organic load of the biofilter.

  • Making the water clearer as organic particles are removed from the water.

  • Improving conditions for nitrification as the biofilter does not clog.

  • Stabilising effect on the biofiltration processes.

Biological treatment

Not all the organic matter is removed in the mechanical filter, the finest particles will pass through together with dissolved compounds such as phosphate and nitrogen. Phosphate is an inert substance, with no toxic effect, but nitrogen in the form of free ammonia (NH3) is toxic, and needs to be transformed in the biofilter to harmless nitrate. The breakdown of organic matter and ammonia is a biological process carried out by bacteria in the biofilter. Heterotrophic bacteria oxidise the organic matter by consuming oxygen and producing carbon dioxide, ammonia and sludge. Nitrifying bacteria convert ammonia into nitrite and finally to nitrate.

The efficiency of biofiltration depends primarily on:

  • The water temperature in the system.

  • The pH level in the system.

To reach an acceptable nitrification rate, water temperatures should be kept within 10 to 35 °C (optimum around 30 °C) and pH levels between 7 and 8. The water temperature will most often depend on the species reared, and is as such not adjusted to reach the most optimal nitrification rate, but to give optimal levels for fish growth. Regulation of pH in relation to biofilter efficiency is however important as lower pH level reduces the efficiency of the biofilter. The pH should therefore be kept above 7 in order to reach a high rate of bacterial nitrifying. On the other hand, increasing pH will result in an increasing amount of free ammonia (NH3), which will enhance the toxic effect. The aim is therefore to find the balance between these two opposite aims of adjusting the pH. A recommended adjustment point is between pH 7.0 and pH 7.5.

Two major factors affect the pH in the water recirculation system:

  • The production of CO~2~ from the fish and from the biological activity of the biofilter.

  • The acid produced from the nitrification process.

Result of nitrification:

NH~4~ (ammonium) + 1.5 O~2~ → NO~2~ (nitrite) + H~2~O + 2H^+^+ 2e

NO~2~ (nitrite) + 0.5 O~2~ → NO~3~ (nitrate) + e


NH~4~ + 2 O~2~ ↔ NO~3~ + H~2~O + 2H^+^

CO~2~ is removed by aeration of the water, whereby degassing takes place. This process can be accomplished in several ways as described later in this chapter.

The nitrifying process produces acid (H+) and the pH level falls. In order to stabilize the pH, a base must be added. For this purpose lime or sodium hydroxide (NaOH) or another base needs to be added to the water.

Fish excretes a mixture of ammonia and ammonium (Total Ammonia Nitrate (TAN) = ammonium (NH4+) + ammonia (NH3)) where ammonia constitutes the main part of the excretion. The amount of ammonia in the water depends however on the pH level as can be seen in figure 2.8, which shows the equilibrium between ammonia (NH3) and ammonium (NH4+).


Figure 2.8 The equilibrium between ammonia (NH3) and ammonium (NH4+) at 20 °C. The toxic ammonia is absent at pH below 7, but rises fast as pH is increased.


Figure 2.9 The relation between measured pH and the amount of TAN available for breakdown in the biofilter, based upon a toxic ammonia concentration of 0.02 mg/L.

In general, ammonia is toxic to fish at levels above 0.02 mg/L. Figure 2.9 shows the maximum concentration of TAN to be allowed at different pH levels if a level below 0.02 mg/L of ammonia is to be ensured. The lower pH levels minimises the risk of exceeding this toxic ammonia limit of 0.02 mg/L, but the fish farmer is recommended to reach a level of minimum pH 7 in order to reach a higher biofilter efficiency as explained earlier. Unfortunately, the total concentration of TAN to be allowed is thereby significantly reduced as can be seen in figure 2.9. Thus there are two opposite working vectors of the pH that the fish farmer has to take into consideration when tuning his biofilter.

Nitrite (NO2-) is formed at the intermediate step in the nitrification process, and is toxic to fish at levels above 2.0 mg/L. If fish in a recirculation system are gasping for air, although the oxygen concentration is fine, a high nitrite concentration may be the cause. At high concentrations, nitrite is transported over the gills into the fish blood, where it obstructs the oxygen uptake. By adding salt to the water, reaching as little as 0.3 ‰, the uptake of nitrite is inhibited.

Nitrate (NO3-) is the end-product of the nitrification process, and although it is considered harmless, high levels (above 100 mg/L) seem to have a negative impact on growth and feed conversion. If the exchange of new water in the system is kept very low, nitrate will accumulate, and unacceptable levels will be reached. One way to avoid the accumulation is to increase the exchange of new water, whereby the high concentration is diluted to a lower and trouble-free level.

On the other hand, the whole idea of recirculation is saving water, and in some instances water saving is a major goal. Under such circumstances, nitrate concentrations can be reduced by de-nitrification. Under normal conditions, a water consumption of more than 300 litres per kg feed used is sufficient to dilute the nitrate concentration. Using less water than 300 litres per kg feed makes the use of denitrification worth considering.

The most predominant denitrifying bacteria is called Pseudomonas. This is an anaerobic (no oxygen) process reducing nitrate to atmospheric nitrogen. In fact, this process removes nitrogen from the water into the atmosphere, whereby the load of nitrogen into the surrounding environment is reduced. The process requires an organic source (carbon), for example wood alcohol (methanol) that can be added to a denitrification chamber. In practical terms 2.5 kg of methanol is needed for each kg nitrate (NO3-N) denitrified.

Most often the denitrification chamber is fitted with biofilter media designed with a residence time of 2-4 hours. The flow must be controlled to keep outlet oxygen concentration at app. 1 mg/L. If oxygen is completely depleted extensive production of hydrogen sulphide (H2S) will take place, which is extremely toxic to fish and also bad smelling (rotten egg). Resulting production of sludge is quite high, and the unit has to be back-washed, typically once a week.


Figure 2.10 Moving bed media on left and fixed bed media on right.

Biofilters are typically constructed using plastic media giving a high surface area per m^3^ of biofilter. The bacteria will grow as a thin film on the media thereby occupying an extremely large surface area. The aim of a well-designed biofilter is to reach as high a surface area as possible per m^3^ without packing the biofilter so tight that it will get clogged with organic matter under operation. It is therefore important to have a high percentage of free space for the water to pass through and to have a good overall flow through the biofilter together with a sufficient back-wash procedure. Such back-wash procedures must be carried out at sufficient intervals once a week or month depending on the load on the filter. Compressed air is used to create turbulence in the filter whereby organic matter is ripped off. The biofilter is shunted while the washing procedure takes place, and the dirty water in the filter is drained off and discharged before the biofilter is connected to the system again.

Biofilters used in recirculation systems can be designed as fixed bed filters or moving bed filters. All biofilters used in recirculation today work as submerged units under water. In the fixed bed filter, the plastic media is fixed and not moving. The water runs through the media as a laminar flow to make contact with the bacterial film. In the moving bed filter, the plastic media is moving around in the water inside the biofilter by a current created by pumping in air. Because of the constant movement of the media, moving bed filters can be packed harder than fixed bed filters thus reaching a higher turnover rate per m3 of biofilter. There is however no significant difference in the turnover rate calculated per m2 (filter surface area) as the efficiency of the bacterial film in either of the two types of filter is more or less the same. In the fixed bed filter, however, fine organic particles are also removed as these substances adhere to the bacterial film. The fixed bed filter will therefore act also as a fine mechanical filtration unit removing microscopic organic material and leaving the water very clear. The moving bed filter will not have the same effect as the constant turbulence of water will make any adhesion impossible.

Figure 2.11 Moving bed (top) and fixed bed biofilters (bottom).

Both filter systems can be used in the same system, or they can be combined; using the moving bed to save space and the fixed bed to benefit from the adhering effect. There are several solutions for the final design of biofilter systems depending on farm size, species to be cultured, sizes of fish, etc.

Degassing, aeration, and stripping

Before the water runs back to the fish tanks accumulated gases, which are detrimental to the fish, must be removed. This degassing process is carried out by aeration of the water, and the method is often referred to as stripping. The water contains carbon dioxide (CO2) from the fish respiration and from the bacteria in the biofilter in the highest concentrations, but free nitrogen (N2) is also present. Accumulation of carbon dioxide and nitrogen gas levels will have detrimental effects on fish welfare and growth. Under anaerobic conditions hydrogen sulphide (H2S) can be produced, especially in saltwater systems. This gas is extremely toxic to fish, even in low concentrations, and fish will be killed if the hydrogen sulphide is generated in the system.

Aeration can be accomplished by pumping air into the water whereby the

turbulent contact between the air bubbles and the water drives out the gases. This underwater aeration makes it possible to move the water at the same time, for example if an aeration well system is used (see figure 2.12).

Figure 2.12 Aeration well system.


Figure 2.13 Photo and drawing of trickling filter wrapped in a blue plastic liner to eliminate splashing on the floor (Billund Akvakulturservice, Denmark). The aeration/stripping process is also called CO2-stripping. The media in the trickling filter typically consists of the same type of media as used in fixed bed biofilters – see figure 2.10.

The aeration well system is however not as efficient for removing gases as the trickling filter system, also called a degasser. In the trickling system, gases are stripped off by physical contact between the water and plastic media stacked in a column. Water is led to the top of the filter over a distribution plate with holes, and flushed down through the plastic media to maximise turbulence and contact, the so called stripping process.


The aeration process of the water, which is the same physical process as degassing or stripping, will add some oxygen to the water through simple exchange between the gases in the water and the gases in the air depending on the saturation level of the oxygen in the water. The equilibrium of oxygen in water is 100% saturation. When the water has been through the fish tanks, the oxygen content has been lowered, typically down to 70%, and the content is reduced further in the biofilter. Aeration of this water will typically bring the saturation up to around 90%, in some systems 100% can be reached. Oxygen saturation higher than 100% in the inlet water to the fish tanks is however often preferred in order to have sufficient oxygen available for a high and stable fish growth. Saturation levels above 100% call for a system using pure oxygen.


Figure 2.14 Oxygen cone for dissolving pure oxygen at high pressure and a sensor (probe) for measuring the oxygen saturation of the water. Source: AKVA group/ Oxyguard International.

Pure oxygen is often delivered in tanks in the form of liquid oxygen, but can also be produced on the farm in an oxygen generator. There are several ways of making super-saturated water with oxygen contents reaching 200-300 %. Typically high pressure oxygen cone systems or low head oxygen systems, such as oxygen platforms are used. The principle is the same. Water and pure oxygen are mixed under pressure whereby the oxygen is forced into the water. In the oxygen cone the pressure is accomplished with a pump creating a high pressure of typically around 1.4 bar in the cone. Pumping water under pressure into the oxygen cone consumes a lot of electricity. In the oxygen platform the pressure is much lower, typically down to about 0.1 bar, and water is simply pumped through the box mixing water and oxygen. The difference in the two kinds of systems is that the oxygen cone solution uses only a part of the circulating water for oxygen enrichment, whereas the oxygen platform is used for the main recirculation flow often in combination with the overall pumping of water round in the system.

Figure 2.15 Oxygen platform for dissolving pure oxygen at low pressure while pumping water around in the farm. The system typically increases the level dissolved oxygen to just above 100% when entering the fi sh tanks depending on flow rates and farm design. Source: FREA Aquaculture Solutions

Whatever method is used, the process should be controlled with the help of oxygen measurement. The best way of doing so is to have the oxygen probe measuring after the oxygenation system at normal atmospheric pressure, for example in a measurement chamber delivered by the supplier. This makes the measurement easier than if it was made under pressure, since the probe will need to be wiped clean and calibrated, from time to time.

Ultraviolet light

UV disinfection works by applying light in wavelengths that destroy DNA in biological organisms. In aquaculture pathogenic bacteria and one-celled organisms are targeted. The treatment has been used for medical purposes for decades and does not impact the fish as UV treatment of the water is applied outside the fish production area. It is important to understand that bacteria grow so rapidly in organic matter that controlling bacterial numbers in traditional fish farms has limited effect. The best control is achieved when effective mechanical filtration is combined with a thorough biofiltration to effectively remove organic matter from the process water, thus making the UV radiation work efficiently.

The UV dose can be expressed in several different units. One of the most widely used is micro Watt -seconds per cm^2^ (µWs/cm2). The efficiency depends on the size and species of the target organisms and the turbidity of the water. In order to control bacteria and viruses the water needs to be treated with roughly 2 000 to 10 000 µWs/cm^2^ to kill 90% of the organisms, fungi will need 10 000 to 100 000 and small parasites 50 000 to 200 000 µWs/cm2.


Figure 2.16 Closed and open UV treatment systems: For installation in a closed piping system and in an open channel system respectively. Source: ULTRAAQUA.

UV lighting used in aquaculture must work under water to give maximum efficiency, lamps fitted outside the water will have little or no effect because of water surface reflection.


The use of ozone (O3) in fish farming has been criticised because the effect of over-dosing can cause severe injury to the fish. In farms inside buildings, ozone can also be harmful to the people working in the area as they may inhale too much ozone. Thus correct dosing and monitoring of the loading together with proper ventilation is crucial to reach a positive and safe result.

Ozone treatment is an efficient way of destroying unwanted organisms by the heavy oxidation of organic matter and biological organisms. In ozone treatment technology micro particles are broken down into molecular structures that will bind together again and form larger particles. By this form of flocculation, microscopic suspended solids too small to be caught can now be removed from the system instead of passing through the different types of filters in the recirculation system. This technology is also referred to as water polishing as it makes the water clearer and free of any suspended solids and possible bacteria adhering to these. This is especially suitable in hatchery and fry systems growing small fish, which are sensitive to micro particles and bacteria in the water.

Ozone treatment can also be used when the intake water to a recirculation system needs to be disinfected.

It is worth mentioning that in many cases UV treatment is a good and safe alternative to ozone.

pH regulation

The nitrifying process in the biofilter produces acid, thus the pH level will drop. In order to keep a stable pH a base must be added to the water. In some systems a lime mixing station is installed dripping limewater into the system and thereby stabilizing pH. An automatic dosage system regulated by a pH-meter with a feedback impulse to a dosage pump is another option. With this system it is preferable to use sodium hydroxide (NaOH) as it is easy to handle and making the system easier to maintain. Sodium hydroxide is a strong alkaline that can severely burn eyes and skin. Safety precautions must be taken, and glasses and gloves must be worn while handling this and other strong acids and bases.

Figure 2.17 Dosage pump for pH regulation by preset dosing of NaOH. The pump can be connected to a pH sensor for fully automatic regulation of pH level.

Water temperature regulation

Maintaining an optimal water temperature in the culture system is most important as the growth rate of the fish is directly related to the water temperature. Using the intake water is a fairly simple way of regulating the temperature from day to day. In an indoor recirculation system the heat will slowly build up in the water, because energy in the form of heat is released from the fish metabolism and the bacterial activity in the biofilter. Heat from friction in the pumps and the use of other installations will also accumulate. High temperatures in the system are therefore often a problem in an intensive recirculation system. By adjusting the amount of cool fresh intake water into the system, the temperature can be regulated in a simple way.

If cooling by the use of intake water is limited a heat pump can be used. The heat pump will utilize the amount of energy normally lost in the discharge water or in the air leaving the farm. The energy is then used for cooling the circulating water inside the farm. A similar way of lowering heating/cooling cost can be achieved by recovering the energy by the use of a heat exchanger. Energy in the discharge water from the farm is transferred to the cold incoming intake water or vice versa. This is done by passing both streams into the heat exchanger where the warm outlet water will lose energy and heat up the cold intake water, without mixing the two streams. Also on the ventilation system a heat exchanger for air can be mounted utilizing energy from the out-going air and transferring it to the in-going air, thereby reducing the need for heating significantly.

In cold climates heating of the water can be necessary. The heat can come from any source like an oil or gas boiler and is, independent of energy source, connected to a heat exchanger to heat the recirculated water. Heat pumps are an environmental friendly heating solution, and can utilize energy for heating from the ocean, a river, a well or the air. It can even be used to transfer the energy from one recirculation system to another, and thereby heat one system and cool another. Usually it utilizes energy from e.g. the ocean using a titanium heat exchanger, moves the energy to the recirculation that is calling for heating and releases the heat through another heat exchanger.


Different types of pumps are used for circulating the process water in the system. Pumping normally requires a substantial amount of electricity, and low lifting heights and efficient and correctly installed pumps are important to keep running costs at a minimum.

The lifting of water should preferably occur only once in the system, whereby the water runs by gravity all the way through the system back to the pump sump. Pumps are most often positioned in front of the biofilter system and the degasser as the water preparation process starts here. In any case, pumps should be placed after the mechanical filtration to avoid breaking the solids coming from the fish tanks.

Calculation of the total lifting height for pumping is the sum of the actual lifting height and the pressure losses in pipe runs, pipe bends and other fittings. This is also called the dynamic head. If water is pumped through a submerged biofilter before falling down through the degasser, a counter pressure from the biofilter will also have to be accounted for. Details on fluid mechanics and pumps are beyond the scope of this guide.

Figure 2.18 Lifting pumps type KPL for efficient lifting of large amounts of water. Lifting pumps are often used for pumping the main flow in the recirculation system. Correct selection of pump is important to keep the running costs down. Frequency control is an option to regulate the exact flow needed depending on the fish production. H is the lifting height and Q is the volume of water lifted.

Source: Grundfos

Figure 2.19 Centrifugal pumps type NB for pumping water when high pressure or high lifting heights are needed. The range of centrifugal pumps is wide, so these pumps are also efficiently used for pumping at lower lifting heights. Centrifugal pumps are often used in recirculation systems for pumping secondary flows as for example flows through UV systems or for reaching high pressure in oxygen cones. H is the lifting height and Q is the volume of water lifted. Source: Grundfos

The total lifting height in most intensive recirculation systems today is around 2-3 metres, which makes the use of low pressure pumps most efficient for pumping the main flow around. However, the process of dissolving pure oxygen into the process water requires centrifugal pumps as these pumps are able to create the required high pressure in the cone. In some systems, where the lifting height for the main flow is very low, the water is driven without the use of pumps by blowing air into aeration wells. In these systems the degassing and the movement of water are accomplished in one process, which makes low lifting heights possible. The efficiency of degassing and moving of water is however not necessarily better than that of pumping water up over the degasser, because the efficiency of aeration wells in terms of using energy and the degassing efficiency is lower than using lifting pumps and stripping or trickling the water.

Monitoring, control, and alarms

Intensive fish farming requires close monitoring and control of the production in order to maintain optimal conditions for the fish at all times. Technical failures can easily result in substantial losses, and alarms are vital installations for securing the operation.

In many modern farms, a central control system can monitor and control oxygen levels, temperature, pH, water levels and motor functions. If any of the parameters moves out of the preset hysteresis values, a start/stop process will try to solve the problem. If the problem is not solved automatically, an alarm will start. Automatic feeding can also be an integrated part of the central control system. This allows the timing of the feeding to be coordinated precisely with a higher dosage of oxygen as the oxygen consumption rises during feeding. In less sophisticated systems, the monitoring and control is not fully automatic, and personnel will have to make several manual adjustments.

Whatever the case, no system will work without the surveillance of the personnel working on the farm. The control system must therefore be fitted with an alarm system, which will call the personnel if any major failures are about to occur. A reaction time of less than 20 minutes is recommended, even in situations where automatic back-up systems are installed.


Figure 2.20 An oxygen probe (Oxyguard) is calibrated in the air before being lowered into the water for on-line measurement of the oxygen content of the water. Surveillance can be computerized with a large number of measuring points and alarm control.

Emergency system

The use of pure oxygen as a back-up is the number one safety precaution. The installation is simple, and consists of a holding tank for pure oxygen and a distribution system with diffusers fitted in all tanks. If the electricity supply fails a magnetic valve pulls back and pressurized oxygen flows to each tank keeping the fish alive. The flow sent to the diffusers should be adjusted beforehand, so that the oxygen in the storage tank in an emergency situation lasts long enough for the failure to be corrected in time.


Figure 2.21 Oxygen tank and emergency electrical generator.

To back up the electrical supply, a fuel driven electrical generator is necessary. It is very important to get the main pumps in operation as fast as possible, because ammonia excreted from the fish will build up to toxic levels when the water is not circulating over the biofilter. It is therefore important to get the water flow up and running within an hour or so.

Intake water

Water used for recirculation should preferably come from a disease-free source or be sterilised before going into the system. In most cases it is better to use water from a borehole, a well, or something similar than to use water coming directly from a river, lake or the sea. If a treatment system for intake water needs to be installed, it will typically consist of a sand filter for microfiltration and a UV or ozone system for disinfection.

Source: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2015, Jacob Bregnballe, A Guide to Recirculation Aquaculture, Reproduced with permission.

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations