Choosing the Best Fish for Aquaponics

Updated on August 24, 2019
Knightmare Golem profile image

I've always had an interest in aquariums, aquaponics, and interconnected farming systems. I'd love to share with you the info I've learned.

There's something soothing and relaxing in growing your own fish at home. If you're the type of person that would enjoy setting up an aquaponic fish tank more than how it actually looks like, you are ready to become a fish grower. You have to know some details about your local climate and the type of fish you want to grow. There are a lot of different fishes that are suitable for aquaponics, but some of them are hard to look after. Learn about the species of fish that are most suitable for aquaponics in the guide below.

Choosing the Right Fish

I know you might be tempted to choose your fish first, but it's actually the last thing you should do. Before selecting the fish, you need to build or buy the tank and figure out which vegetables you want to grow along with the fish. The temperature of the tank and the pH level are also factors that you need to consider before you populate the tank. With that said, here are the best fish for an aquaponic fish tank.

Rainbow Trout

Many growers start with the rainbow trout not because it's a pretty-looking fish, but because it's delicious. However, this isn't a fish you can grow in cooler climates. Ideally, rainbow trout need a water temperature of 60° F, but they can thrive in temperatures of 45° to 72° F. If you set everything up correctly, that includes the insulation, shade, and normal seasonal climate, you will be able to grow full-sized fish in about 9 months.

Rainbow trout live in mountain streams, and they need clear, circulating water to thrive. You will need to provide a lot of oxygen, and the dissolved oxygen level mustn't drop below 5.5 ppm. The fish can't handle dirty water, so you'll have to keep it clear at all times. You can even add extra aeration if you want the fish to grow faster. The trout is not the easiest fish to look after, but if you do everything right, you will be rewarded with tasty, valuable meat.

Fingerlings cost about a dollar at a hatchery, but a full-grown fish costs 20 dollars at the local grocery store. If you grow your own fish, it will likely taste better than anything commercially available, and you won't have to spend a lot of money to get it.


  • Impressive looking
  • Tasty
  • Valuable


  • Sensitive
  • Needs a lot of work


Tilapia is the No. 1 aquaponic fish in the US because it grows quickly, and it's a hardy fish that can survive in dirty water. They eat all sorts of feed and do well in warmer tanks. The ideal water temperature for growing tilapia is between 70° and 80° F, but the fish can adapt to cooler or warmer temperatures without significant issues.

The fish has an unusual temperament, so growers often get too attached to tilapia. Many of them can't bring themselves to kill the fish later on because of the emotional attachment. If you want to grow tilapia, don't name the fish and don't spend too much time near the tank.

Tilapia is often regarded as a muddy fish or a fish that tastes like mud. That’s because it's very adaptable and can survive on low-quality feeds and murky waters. So, the poor taste comes from the environment where the fish grew up. If you provide a clean, stable aquaponic system, the fish will taste great. The fact that tilapia is so adaptable makes it an ideal choice for beginning aquaponics. You won't have to spend a lot of time or money to create a habitable environment for the fish.

Furthermore, some varieties need only six months to grow to plate size, which is another plus. Note that it’s illegal to farm tilapia in some states, so make sure to check online before you order.


  • Easy to grow
  • Adaptable
  • Fun pets
  • Great for beginners
  • Breed every 4-6 weeks


  • Farming is illegal in some US states (but can be kept as pets)
  • Needs warm water


Since no one eats goldfish, you can't grow them for food, but they are a low-maintenance fish that can help you optimize your water plant yields. Not only that, you can take care of them as pets and get emotionally involved.

Goldfish are related to carp, so they are very adaptable and can cope with temperature swings without any problems. Still, you should do all you can to keep the temperature in the tank at around 70° F. Optimize the feeding and pooping cycles to get the most out of your veggies.

However, if you're too lazy to keep an eye on the pH level all the time, the goldfish won't mind much, but you probably shouldn't get them if you’re to be lazy about it. They can survive in low temperatures, but they won't take care of your plants as well as. Another cool thing about goldfish is that they look pretty and they are fun to play with. You can find them anywhere at low prices, but avoid getting "feeder" fish because they often bring all kinds of diseases that could harm the rest of the fish in the tank.


  • Beautiful colorful fish
  • Survives in low pH levels
  • Easy to look after
  • Great pets


  • Inedible


Perch is great for serious aquaponic systems because they taste great, they are hard to kill, and they grow at a fast rate. If you feed them with omega-3 feeds, the fish can supply the highest levels of omega-3 of all other strains you can grow. You won't be able to breed it in captivity, but you will be able to enjoy fine-tasting meat every few months.

There are three main species: the European perch, the Balkhash, and the yellow perch that's found across North America. Yellow perch is the best species for aquaponics because they do well in moderate temperatures and can cope with a wide pH range.

The water needs to be between 67° and 77° F, and the fish will grow to about 15 inches in size and 2.2 pounds in weight. The survival pH range is 6.5 to 8.5, which is the widest range of all aquaponic species. They breed once a year in specific temperatures.


  • Edible
  • Rich in omega-3
  • Hard to die
  • Fast growers


  • Breeds once a year

Channel Catfish

Catfish are a huge part of many American regional cuisines, especially in southern states like Louisiana. You need an IBC tank that can hold at least 275 gallons of water to cope with their size. The species is friendly so you can keep catfish in the same tank with tilapia. They eat leftover feeds from the bottom of the tank, which can be a great way of keeping the water clean and balanced.

The ideal temperature for growing catfish is between 70° and 80° F. They are challenging to breed, but you can get there with a little practice. Catfish are unique because they don't have scales like other fish, so you shouldn't touch them because they are very gentle. They are fascinating to watch because of their whiskers and calm temperament.


  • Popular fish
  • Large
  • Grows fast
  • Keeps the water clean
  • Can live with other fish


  • Smooth scaleless skin

Final Verdict

Starting your own aquaponic system can be tricky, so it's essential that you choose the right fish for your needs. The choice depends on your climate, and your willingness to spend time looking after the fish. If you're new to aquaponics, you should start with tilapia because they’re edible and easy to maintain. Tilapia can survive in murky waters, and they eat any feed, so you won't have to be an expert to grow them.

On the other hand, if you're looking for a challenge, go with rainbow trout that will put your aquaponic skills to the test. You will have to reinvent yourself and provide the ideal ecosystem if you want to enjoy the tastiest fish meat there is. It is more demanding than all other species on our list, but it also promises tastier rewards if everything is done right.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Ben Martin


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  • Cooking Jam profile image

    Muhammad Abdullah 

    10 months ago

    I really learned a lot from this article.


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