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Best Catfish For Aquaponics (Easy Guide)

Best Catfish For Aquaponics

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In a gardening system where plants rely on fish waste for nutrients, choosing the correct fish species is crucial. Growers need to invest time in researching what types of fish have excellent growth-rate to ensure that they have a balanced aquaponics unit. Among the fish species that are known to grow well in tanks is the catfish. Catfish are easy to manage, especially for beginners, because of their adaptability in different environments. However, there are over 3,000 species of catfish, and there are still more that are still not identified. Without proper research, choosing the best catfish for aquaponics could be a monumental task.

According to FAO, the main commercial types of catfish that grow best in aquaponics are the following:

  • Channel Catfish
  • African Catfish
  • Brown Bullhead Catfish

Channel and African catfish can be stocked in high densities, and they grow faster at high temperatures. Alternatively, Brown bullhead catfish can also be grown in aquaponics even though its growth rate is not as rapid as compared to the others.

To learn more about why catfish have become a popular choice in aquaponics, this article will aim to discuss their characteristics and the benefits. We will also share the best types of catfish for aquaponics to guide growers in choosing the right species for their system.

Benefits of using catfish in aquaponics

If you are new to aquaponics or looking for another fish species to include in your system, catfish could be one of the better options. They are mostly farmed because they adapt well in tanks, and they know how to survive in different environmental conditions. This factor is critical since it’s not always easy to balance the elements of an aquaponics system, as there can be some inconsistencies from time to time. Aside from being adaptable, there are many reasons why most growers choose this bottom feeder. Here is a detailed rundown of the benefits of choosing catfish:

  • They can convert food to body mass in a short period of time.
  • They breed quickly.
  • They are not territorial, so there is a lesser chance that they will fight other species in your tank.
  • They taste good, and they’re more appetizing than some varieties of fish.
  • Aside from food pellets, they can be fed bugs, small fish, and plants.
  • They can tolerate high dissolved oxygen levels, temperature, and PH.
  • They are also resistant to most fish diseases.

Best catfish for aquaponics

Best catfish for aquaponics systems

In theory, most catfish species would thrive in an aquaponics tank because they know how to adapt in varying environmental conditions. However, aquarists suggest four specific species that grow best in an aquaponics system and provide optimal nutrients to plants. Nevertheless, it is necessary to note that growing catfish would require constant monitoring of water conditions and other aspects of the fish tank, just like different fish varieties.

Channel Catfish (Ictalurus punctatus)

The channel catfish is the most common type of catfish used in aquaponics. They are natives of the Mississippi River Valley, and they are commonly used in recreational fishing when they were first introduced to Europe, Russia, Cuba, and Latin America. Farming them only began in the year 1960s to 1970s when aquaculture became considered as economical.

As for their appearance, their color depends on the water where they are living. If the water is clear, the Channel catfish would appear almost black. However, if the water is murky, it usually has a yellow color.

Why You Should Choose Channel Catfish For Aquaponics

This species grows relatively fast. They can grow 3 pounds in 12 months, and they survive well in large aquaponics systems because they can quickly adapt to any environment. 

Aside from eating high protein pellets, they are also omnivorous so they can eat live food such as worms and larvae. The solid waste they produce through feeding is more dissolved than that of tilapia, leading to better mineralization. This species is also resistant to most diseases and parasites, resulting in more fish harvest. 

Quick Tips For Raising Channel Catfish

The Channel catfish ideally grows in a water temperature between 26-30 °C. Adequate aeration, filtration as well as water quality are some of the factors that affect its growth. As for feeding frequency, it would depend on the water temperature of the tank, but they are best fed in the morning for optimal results.

Check out the chart below on how Channel catfish can be good for your aquaponic system:

Growth Rate Heavy Waste Producer Feeding Frequency Water Temperature Highly Durable Lifespan
3 lbs in 12 months Yes 26-30 °C water temperature: two times a day

22–26 °C: once a day

below 20 °C: alternate-day feeding

26-30 °C Tolerant of high temperature and pH 15 years

African Catfish (Clarias gariepinus)

The fish culture of African catfish is somehow similar to tilapia. Their domestication trials began in 1950, and by the mid-1970s, they were labeled as the top catfish for aquaculture

At present, this species is mostly distributed in Africa, Europe, Asia, and South America. It has been widely used in aquaculture in many countries, especially in tropical and subtropical zones. Its distinctive feature is its large head and its elongated body with long dorsal and anal fins. 

Why You Should Choose African Catfish For Aquaponics

The African Catfish are known to be air breathers. They are highly suggested in aquaponics because they can tolerate a drastic drop in dissolved oxygen and manage high ammonia levels. In areas with unstable electricity, breeding this type of fish translates to a lower chance of fish mortality. 

The usual weight of this species is 20 kilograms when fully grown. However, they stop growing if the water temperature is below 20-22 degrees celsius. 

Quick Tips For Raising African Catfish

Through good farming practices, it is possible to grow a 1 gram fingerling into 1 kilogram or 2 pounds in 10 months. The best temperature to facilitate their growth rate is 28 °c even though they typically thrive from 26-32 °C.

Check out the chart below on how African catfish can be good for your aquaponic system:

Growth Rate Heavy Waste Producer Feeding Frequency Water Temperature Highly Durable Lifespan
2.2lbs in 10 months Yes 3 times a day 26-32 °C Tolerant of high DO levels and ammonia 8-15 years

Brown Bullhead Catfish (Ameiurus nebulous)

The brown bullhead catfish is a native of eastern North America. They are often considered trash fish because they taste mucky when grown in unclean water. However, they fit in an aquaponics system since the water in the tanks is continually cleared due to mechanical filtration and recirculation.

This species can be easily identified because of its strong serrations at the edge of its spine. They are also brown-colored and appears to be dark gray at times while their belly is cream-colored. 

Why You Should Choose Brown Bullhead Catfish For Aquaponics

The Shepherd’s Glen Farm in North Central Texas was among the aquaponics growers that raised bullhead catfish for their system. According to them, this type of catfish is widespread, so breeding them is advantageous. They have also noticed that this species quickly multiplies in the first few years and then slows down. 

When it comes to surviving in tanks, the Shepherd Glen Farm found out that Bullhead catfish can handle some periods of no aeration as long as their stocking density is not high and the water in the tank is shallow.

Quick Tips For Raising Brown Bullhead Catfish

This fish species is known to be benthic omnivores. They eat insects, plants, worms, crayfish, and food pellets, and they usually feed at night. 

Check out the chart below on how Brown Bullhead catfish can be good for your aquaponic system:

Growth Rate Heavy Waste Producer Feeding Frequency Water Temperature Highly Durable Lifespan
1.10 lbs in 2 years Yes Once or twice a day 26-28 °C Tolerant of high DO levels and water temperature 6-8 years


Although catfish are known to be a hardened bottom dweller, there are still certain types that have a faster growth rate and more suitable in aquaponics. Some of the most suggested varieties of catfish are Chanel catfish, African Catfish, Eel-tailed catfish, and Brown Bullhead catfish. The availability of these fish depends on your location and the regulations of your state, so consulting aquarists and thorough research are necessary.

The Campbells love finding sustainable and fun ways to increase their independence from traditional brick and motor supermarkets. Aquaponics provides a full lifecycle food source for families and a great hobby. #aquaponicslifestyle

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