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Aquacultural Engineering 6 (1987) 15-26

Performance of a Recirculating Fish Production System Stocked with Tilapia Hybrids Anthony J. Provenzano, Jr and Joseph G. Winfield
Department of Oceanography,Old Dominion University,Norfolk, Virginia 23508, USA

ABSTRACT To demonstrate whether practical quantities of food fish could be produced in an inexpensive closed system suitable for family-scale use, 424 tilapia hybrid fry weighing a total of 177 g were stocked on 8 May 1981 into a 7600-1iter (10" 7 m e) steel-walled, vinyl-lined pool equipped with a rotating biological contactor, a settling basin, supplemental aeration and a passive solar collector. Ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, oxygen, temperature, p H and turbidity were monitored. New water was added at intervals during the experiment, at an average rate equivalent to 4% per day. Floating catfish chow was fed. To establish a growth curve and biomass estimate, 30fish were removed, weighed and restocked every two weeks. After 146 days of grow-out, 48"6 kg offish were harvested. Food conversion was 1"25:1. With suitable temperatures, 2"5 crops totaling at least 121 kg could be produced at a rate equal to 121000 kg/ha/yr of water surface.

INTRODUCTION There appears to be widespread interest in small-scale food fish production, but conventional pond culture techniques are not suitable for many environments, and closed-system intensive culture is often assumed to be feasible only on a large scale. Attempts have been made to demonstrate the technical feasibility of growing family quantities of edible fish in urban as well as in other environments (for example, see Bender, 1984; Van Gorder et al., 1981 ). Our goal was to develop a system sufficiently productive and economical that the interested consumer could produce his own food fish. Of primary concern was the development of a lifesupport production system capable of sustaining a suitable biomass, the assumption being that, given an efficient low-cost system, a variety of species could be reared with little or no significant change in design. The 15 Aquacultural Engineering 0144-8609/87/S03.50-- Elsevier" Applied Science Publishers Ltd. En_land. 1987. Printed in Great Britain

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A. J. Provenzano, Jr, J. G. Winfield

purpose of this paper is to present the production performance of such a system used for seasonal grow-out of tilapia hybrids.

MATERIALS AND METHODS The rearing container was a circular steel-walled, vinyl-lined swimming pool, 3-66 m in diameter, with 0.91 m depth. When filled to operating depth of 0.72 m, the unit holds approximately 7 600 liters. This unit was chosen for its availability and relatively low cost and because its capacity was thought to be close to that which might be required for a targeted production level of 100 kg or more per year. A settling tank in the form of a bathtub with a capacity of about 200 liters was set at a level such that pool water could return from the tank to the pool by gravity after being pumped from the pool into the settling tank with air lift pumps. A frame with baffles was built to fit into the settling tank and plastic fish netting was used between baffles to trap suspended solids. Biological filtration and some mixing in the production pool were accomplished by means of a floating rotating biological contactor (RBC), modified after Van Gorder and Strange (1980). The area of the 24 61 cm x 61 cm plates (17.3 m 2) was substantially less than that in units used in preliminary studies in 1980 and by Van Gorder and Strange (1980). The plates, mounted on a shaft driven by a Dayton 1/6 hp gear motor, revolved at 6 rpm (see Fig. 1 ). Supplemental aeration was provided by two air lines submerged near the center of the pool. The entire production unit with the exception of the settling tank was covered by a geodesic dome made of PVC pipe over which a polyethylene plastic skin was fastened to gather and conserve

i I IJ i I il II

Fig. 1.

Diagram of culture unit, showing RBC in tank and location of settling tank. Air lines and dome cover are omitted.

A recirculatingfish production system stocked with tilapia hybrids

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solar heat, reduce wind effects and protect from bird predation. City water (not dechlorinated) was used. Hybrids of Oreochromis mossambicus females x O. hornorum males were obtained as fry from Natural Systems Inc., Palmetto, FL, USA, on 22 April 1981, held indoors in aquaria and fed Artemia, Daphnia and ground fish chow until they reached an average weight of 0.4 g. At stocking on 8 May 1981, 424 fry weighing a total of 177 g were placed in the rearing pool. Except for trout chow given during the first three to four weeks, a 36% protein floating catfish chow was fed daily. On two days fish did not receive food and on five other occasions they received only one feeding. Otherwise, feedings were made two to seven times daily. The weight of feed given was recorded daily. Phytoplankton produced in the pool was also consumed by the fish as evidenced by green fecal strands. At two-week intervals, a sample of fish was removed by seining, the individuals were weighed and they were returned to the pool. Normally 30 fish were included in the sample. Air temperature inside and outside the dome and water temperature were recorded several times daily and water temperature was monitored with a continuously recording thermograph. Oxygen readings were taken with a YSI oxygen meter. In addition to Secchi disk readings, water quality parameters measured regularly with Hach Kit equipment included turbidity, water color, total ammonia, nitrite, nitrate and pH. Ammonia and nitrite readings were usually taken between 1000 h and 1500 h. On less than 10 occasions readings were made early in the morning or in early evening, but there was less variation among same-day readings than between readings on different days. Readings of pH were generally taken twice each day, in early morning and in late afternoon. Water losses resulting from evaporation and the flushing of the settling tank were made up by adding city water to the pool without attempt to dechlorinate. The total water added amounted to slightly less than six tank volumes, or an average of 4% per day. This includes two tank volumes dumped and replaced for safety reasons. (On one occasion water temperature exceeded 36C and water was exchanged to lower the temperature; on the other occasion a major water change was made before a holiday weekend to avoid possible water quality problems during a time when staff could not respond quickly (Fig. 2). RESULTS Growth data are summarized in Fig. 3, which shows that from a mean size of 0"4 g at day 1 of the feeding experiment, a mean weight of 116 g

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3
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Fig. 2. Total water added after start of experiment to replenish losses due to flushing, removal of settled solids, and for preventive maintenance of water quality. Horizontal bars indicate cumulative tank volumes.

was achieved after 146 days. The samples of fish taken in the last weeks of the season gave a biased estimate of growth, as smaller fish tended to escape the seine. The total weight of fish harvested between 24 August and 1 October was 48.6 kg. Of the 424 fry stocked, 41 individuals died of various causes between 22 May and 21 September and were removed, giving an apparent survival of 90-3%. The total number of live fish recovered, however, was 409, indicating that some reproduction had occurred. In fact, fry were observed on a number of occasions and it is very likely that some or perhaps most of the smallest fish harvested were survivors of early spawns. The hybrid fry stocked were expected to be nearly all males. Although quantitative sexing of the entire population was not feasible at harvest, many females were found and 187 fish of the same original shipment, grown out in another pool, contained at least 44% females at harvest. Figure 4 shows cumulative biomass as determined by multiplying the bi-weekly mean sample weight by the number of fish stocked minus the number known dead. On the same graph is the cumulative feed. The overall feed conversion ratio was 1.25 kg dry feed per kg wet fish produced. Figure 5 shows the size frequency of the fish harvested in the last five weeks of the project. Temperature was generally favorable for growth throughout the period. On one occasion in late May a water temperature of 19C was

A recirculatingJish production system stocked with tilapia hybrids


300

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200

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Fig. 3.

Mean size of fish sampled during grow-out. Curve connects means; long bars indicate range; short bars indicate + one standard deviation.
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Fig. 4.

Estimated biomass ( based on bi-weekly samples, and cumulative feed ( - - -): A. actual final biomass.

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A. J. Provenzano, Jr, J. G. Winfield

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Size frequency of fish harvested during last five weeks of grow-out period.

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Fig. 6.

Water temperatures in rearing tank: morning ( - - - ) and afternoon (

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recorded, but otherwise temperatures remained between 24 and 36C with a diurnal fluctuation of 2-5C (Fig. 6). Morning pH readings tended to remain in the range 7-8 while afternoon readings ranged from about 7.5 to approximately 9 (Fig. 7), as expected in a phytoplankton-dominated system. Oxygen levels, also as expected in a phytoplankton-dominated system, varied markedly on a diurnal basis, with supersaturation common in

A recirculatingfish production system stocked with tilapia hybrids


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Fig. 7.

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Morning (lower curve) and afternoon (upper curve) pH readings.

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Fig. 8.

Dissolved oxygen readings in rearing tank: morning ( - - - ) and afternoon

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afternoons but morning levels falling as low as 2 mg/liter or slightly lower (Fig. 8). Secchi disk readings are summarized in Fig. 9. The water became very turbid almost immediately after stocking and even after major (greater

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Fig. 9. Relative transparency of rearing water as determined by Secchi disk depth. Peak clarity in mid-June was attributed to phytoplankton mortality; peaks in September were caused by extensive water changes.

than 20%) water changes it returned to highly turbid levels (e.g. 9 July, 5, 11 and 20 August, 3, 7 and 18 September). The total ammonia-nitrogen peaked at 6.5 mg/liter in mid-June, falling rapidly thereafter to a background level in the range 1-2 mg/liter with slight indication of a build-up near the end of the season (Fig. 10).

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Fig. 10.

1981 Total ammonia and ammonium-nitrogen concentration during grow-out

period.

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Fig. 11.

JUL AUG SEP 1981 Nitrite-nitrogen concentrations during grow-out period. The June peak occurred as the ammonia level dropped sharply.

MAY

JUN

These values are well within the tolerance range of tilapia. Even at pH values near 8, less than 10% of the total ammonia nitrogen is in the toxic un-ionized form (Muir, 1982, p. 377). Nitrites peaked on the falling ammonia then remained below 1 rag/ liter with indications of a background rise late in the season (Fig. 11 ). Nitrate showed a more erratic pattern (Fig. 12), peaking immediately after nitrite, then tending to build up again with short-term fluctuations. Approximate construction and operating costs of the system, exclusive of labor, are given in Table 1.

DISCUSSION The production achieved, if extrapolated over a one-year period, would provide a family with 2'3 kg of whole fish per week. The ratio of biomass to water volume achieved in the present study, 6.4 g/liter, compares favorably with those from several previous authors who used a rotating biological contactor (RBC) in fish production. Lewis et al. (1978), working with catfish in a recirculating system, used both an RBC and hydroponics to control water quality. They reached 7 g/liter with new water addition of 6-7% daily, compared with our 6.4 g/liter with sporadic water changes averaging 4% daily. Van Gorder and Fritch (1980), also

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A. J, Provenzano, Jr, J. G. Winfield

O)

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Fig. 12.

Nitrate-nitrogen concentrations during grow-out period. The June maximum corresponds to the time of the June nitrite maximum.
TABLE 1

Approximate Costs" of Fish Production System

Construction: Steel-walled, vinyl-lined swimming pool Rotating biological contactor, materials and accessories Settling tank PVC pipe Air pump and lines Dome cover
Total

100 225 10 20 75 150 580 64 33 34 12 143

Operating: Fry, 424 at S0.15 Feed, 60.75 kg at S0.55 Electricity Water


Total "All costs based on retail prices, and exclusive of labor.

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rearing catfish, were able to obtain levels of 18 g/liter with approximately 3.5% new water per day. Van Gorder and Strange (1983b), rearing tilapia (Oreochromis aureus) in systems very similar to that of the present study, but with more clarifier and biological filtration capacity, were able to demonstrate production gains of up to 36 kg or approximately 5 g/liter in 151 days. Thus it would appear that our final standing crop levels could be substantially improved, perhaps with only minor adjustments in the system. The production of fish per unit time and per unit area compares very favorably with that for tilapia culture in ponds. On an annual basis, assuming adequate temperatures, our unit should be capable of producing 121 kg under a surface area of 10.7 m 2. This production is equivalent to approximately 121 000 kg/ha/yr, a very high rate for pond culture, but not exceptional for raceway culture. The water quality measurements suggested a slight deterioration of water quality towards the end of the growing period. Elimination of the heavy phytoplankton population would stabilize water quality, although there may be a slight sacrifice in production (Van Gorder and Strange, 1983b). In a somewhat larger system, Rakocy and Allison (1981) reduced phytoplankton and simultaneously used the excess nutrients hydroponically to produce a supplemental crop of vegetables and aquatic plants. Increasing the size of the biological filter and the clarifier would allow significantly increased carrying capacity at very little additional expense. The mean size of harvested fish could be increased by using all-male hybrids. At least a doubling of production and harvestable biomass appears achievable. Multiple crops and increased efficiency will lower costs of production. Moreover, with minor adjustments, significant additional cost savings are feasible. For example, Van Gorder and Strange (1983a) used a dome costing only one-third as much as ours, and in some situations a cover might not be needed at all. The same authors described a design change in the rotating biological contactor which eliminates the need for a gear motor. More recently they have simplified the apparatus even further (Strange and Van Gorder, 1985). Fry for stocking year-round could be produced by one or two pairs of breeders in aquaria, reducing the expense for fry. Van Gorder and Strange (1983a) have given a detailed description of construction and operation of inexpensive systems for food fish production similar to that described herein and have discussed the versatility of such systems for small-scale culture. Our results confirm the practicality

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A.J. Provenzano, Jr, J. G. WinfieM

and production capacity of such low-cost small-scale fish-growing systems when stocked with tilapia.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS The authors wish to thank Robert Maris and Lynn Anderson for technical assistance in monitoring growtfa and water quality, feeding fish and related efforts. We also wish to thank those students in the years preceding this study for their efforts in helping us to develop the backyard fish culture concept. The encouragement of the personnel of the Rodale Aquaculture Project is gratefully acknowledged.

REFERENCES Bender, J. (1984). An integrated system of aquaculture, vegetable production and solar heating in an urban environment. Aquacultural Engineering, 3, 141-52. Lewis, W. M., Yopp, J. H., Schramm, H. L. Jr & Brandenburg, A. M. (1978). Use of hydroponics to maintain quality of recirculated water in a fish culture system. Trans. Am. Fish. Soc., 107, 92-9. Muir, J. E (1982). Recirculated water systems in aquaculture. In: Recent Advances in Aquaculture, ed. J. E Muir and R. J. Roberts, Westview Press, Boulder, CO, pp. 357-446. Rakocy, J. & Allison, R. (1981 ). Evaluation of a closed recirculating system for the culture of tilapia and aquatic macrophytes. In: Bioengineering Symposium forFish Culture(FCS Publ. 1), ed. L. J. Allen and E. C. Kinney, pp. 296-307. Strange, D. & Van Gorder, S. (1985). Biodisc waterwheel: a design alternative and its application for an air-driven fish culture system. Rodale Research ReportAQ-84/5 (22 pp.), Rodale Press, Kutztown, PA. Van Gorder, S. & Fritch, J. M. (1980). Filtration techniques for small scale aquaculture in a closed system. Proc: Conf. S. East. Ass. Fish Wildl. Agencies, 34, pp. 59-66. Van Gorder, S. & Strange, D. (1980). Small scale fish culture systems: methods of increased production. Rodale Research Report 81-10 (44 pp.), Rodale Press, Kutztown, PA. Van Gorder, S. & Strange, D. (1983a). Home Aquaculture, a Guide to Backyard Fish Farming(120 pp.), Rodale Press, Emmaus, PA. Van Gorder, S. & Strange, D. (1983b). The effects of algae on a recirculating fish culture system and observation trials for summer 1982. Rodale Research Report RRC/AQ-83-4 (32 pp.), Rodale Press, Kutztown, PA. Van Gorder, S., Buck, H. & Fritch, J. (1981). Small scale fish culture systems. Rodale Research Report 80-12 (71 pp.), Rodale Press, Kutztown, PA.