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Using a large fish like sturgeon to grow aquaponic crops is a fairly new endeavor, yet one that is exciting. Caring for sturgeon in aquaponics systems is possible; in fact, this species is starting to gain popularity among aquaponic gardeners. They’re hardy fish that are able to tolerate a variety of conditions, live for a long time (average lifespan of 60 years), and are also edible, perfect for grilling in the summer. Another bonus of raising sturgeon in your system is that you also get to harvest the prized caviar. Truly, sturgeon are versatile fish that make a great addition to your aquaponics setup.
In this article, you will learn some tips on how you can make a large fish like sturgeon thrive in your aquaponics system.
Why Raise Sturgeon in Aquaponics Systems?
Sturgeon is a common name given to 27 different fish species that belong to the family Acipenseridae. These fish have an interesting shark-like appearance and are among the most ancient species of fish in the world. Having them in your aquaponics system provides the opportunity of seeing this wonderful creature anytime you please.
However, due to the high demand for caviar and general overfishing, sturgeon numbers are decreasing, and the species have been listed as critically endangered by the IUCN. These reasons, along with the fact that it takes a long time for the sturgeon to sexually mature, drove interest in sturgeon aquaponics.
Caring for Sturgeon: Not For the Faint of Heart
While sturgeon make for a great fish choice for aquaponics, it certainly won’t be ideal for those who are new to the system. Caring for sturgeon in aquaponics systems means there is high capital involved, intensive management, the need to prepare special diets, and high operating costs – especially when you aim to produce caviar.
One thing that’s worth noting is that sturgeon will reach sexual maturity in five years or more. Females are not able to reproduce until they reach 10 to 20 years old. That said, having a sturgeon in your setup means an instant fish and caviar harvest is not feasible. More importantly, raising sturgeon is a long-term commitment.
Different Sturgeon Varieties
Of the 27 identified sturgeon species, 9 of them are endemic to North America. Some of these species are anadromous, like the salmon, in which they are born in the freshwaters and travel to the sea to breed. Others, however, spend all their lives in freshwater – and these ones are great to raise in your aquaponics setup.
Below is the list of the species you can find in North America:
- Atlantic Sturgeon – can be found in the rivers and coastal waters from Canada to Florida
- Gulf Sturgeon – a subspecies of the Atlantic Sturgeon residing in rivers of Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida
- Shortnose Sturgeon – this extremely rare species can also be found in rivers and coastal waters from Canada to Florida
- Lake Sturgeon – can be found from Hudson River to Mississippi River
- Shovelnose – commonly resides in Mississippi and Missouri river basins
- Pallid – also a resident of the Missouri and lower Mississippi river basins
- Alabama – as the name implies, this species is found in the lower Alabama River
- Green – this species is native to the Pacific Ocean over into Canada and the U.S.
- White – they can be found in the Eastern Pacific; from the Gulf of Alaska to Monterey, California.
Requirements for Caring for Sturgeon in Aquaponics Systems
Given the right conditions, not only will sturgeon thrive for a long time, but they will also have better-tasting meat by the time of harvest. Here are some of the important parameters to consider when raising sturgeon in your aquaponics system:
Sturgeon can grow really large, approximately 20 feet, so a stocking density of at least 260 gallons of water per fish is required.
You can start off with at least 5000 gallons of water in your sturgeon tank. Given the stocking density, that’s about 19 fish. You have to consider the fact that they grow really big, so the larger the tank, the better.
Sturgeon are coldwater fish and they do well in waters with a temperature range of 68 to 72 °F.
Protect your sturgeon from exposure to direct sunlight.
One of the benefits of having sturgeon is that they can tolerate a wide range of pH levels, typically from 6.5 to 8.0.
Sturgeon need high levels of oxygen, ideally 6mg/L of dissolved oxygen or more. When you reside in warm climates, you will need an extra air pump for backup, as hot weather can deplete oxygen quickly.
Fish diet/nutrient requirements
Sturgeons require a special carnivorous feed – such as high-quality sinking feed (since they’re bottom feeders) complete with vitamins, minerals, and fats.
These large prehistoric fish also need frequent feeding every three hours.
How to clean the tank
A once-a-week cleaning of the sturgeon tank is required. One-quarter of water change is also needed every two weeks or more, if necessary. In addition, you must avoid using chlorinated water.
Sturgeon are generally considered more resistant to certain diseases compared to other fish species. But the increase in farming methods also gave rise to different health problems for the fish. Sturgeon can be affected by both bacterial and parasitic infections, but the worst is viral problems. There are different viral diseases that affect this fish species, depending on the breed. Check out this list of specific viruses that can affect sturgeon.
Aquaponics plants best suited for
Best Breed To Use
White sturgeon are a popular species that have been raised in aquaponic farms. Despite being anadromous, there have been many successful setups using white sturgeon. Lake sturgeon is also a good type to use because they live most of their lives in freshwater.
It is recommended for a sturgeon tank to have a hang-on-back filter. Another option is to use a canister filter.
Can they be mixed with other breeds?
Sturgeon can get along well with most fish used in aquaponics, except the very small ones, like those that measure less than 3 cm. Still, it would be hard for the sturgeon to catch the small fish, especially agile ones. Keep in mind, though, that sturgeon tend to be shy and can struggle to feed when there is competition.
The spawning season will depend on the water temperature and flow, but this usually begins when the water is constantly at 53 deg. F. In the wild, males will gather and swim alongside the female, thrashing their tail to release milt (sperm) while the female drops millions of her eggs. The fertilized eggs are naturally sticky, so they adhere to the rocks or other materials found at the bottom of the water. Within three to seven days, the eggs hatch and larvae are released.
In captivity, the eggs are being expressed from the female and then mixed with milt for fertilization. The fertilized eggs should be protected from sunlight or agitation.