News & Events

Economics of Commercial Aquaponics in Hawaii

Nov 28, 2013

The PI’s of the CTSA-sponsored project “Economic Analyses of Commercial Aquaponics Systems in Hawaii and Guam” have published the following article summarizing the initial results of the project:

Economics of Commercial Aquaponics in Hawaii

Aquaponics integrates hydroponic vegetable production and aquaculture. The system was first developed by Dr. James Rakocy and his team at the University of the Virgin Islands as a way to produce large quantities of fish at high densities (Rakocy et al., 2006). In aquaponic systems, nutrient rich water is circulated from a fish tank(s) to vegetable grow beds. Vegetables act as a filter by using nutrients from the fish production and purifying the water before it is circulated back to the fish tank. It is both water saving aquaculture technology and soil saving agricultural technology. For this reason, aquaponics is being touted as a sustainable food production practice.

The aquaponics system has been modified from its original design to different versions that are currently in use. Ako and Baker developed an aquaponic lettuce and tilapia production system in Hawaii with a goal of lower capital and operational costs (Ako and Baker, 2009). Their study of the technology indicated that the system setup can vary and be modified depending on the farm’s location and hardware availability, though optimal conditions can only be achieved under appropriate aeration, feed, and biomass density (i.e. number of fish in the tank). 

While backyard aquaponics has become more common in recent years as a way to supply vegetables and fish for household consumption, several commercial-scale aquaponics farms have started operations in Hawaii. Yet, the economic feasibility of commercial scale operations is unclear. There is some anecdotal evidence regarding the successes and failures of commercial-scale aquaponics operations; however, there are only a few formal economic analyses of large-scale operations and, there are, to the authors’ knowledge, no formal studies on operating commercial aquaponic farms.

In this study, we are investigating the economic feasibility of commercial-scale aquaponics through comprehensive study of three aquaponics farms in Hawaii. We have obtained detailed economic and operational information from the farms and developed a model case for Hawaii to analyze i) profitability of commercial-scale aquaponics, ii) their return on investment, and iii) input requirements for their operations. Through the study, we aim to supply necessary information for starting and operating commercial-scale aquaponic farms, and investigate the feasibility of establishing an aquaponics industry in Hawaii.

Remainder of article will be available on this link by December 6.