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What is Aquaculture Engineering?

By Kim Masters Evans
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Aquaculture engineering is engineering of the facilities, equipment, processes, and systems needed to grow and harvest aquatic animals and plants for commercial purposes. There are few formal education programs around the world devoted specifically to aquacultural engineering. People practicing in this field typically have degrees in aquaculture, the biological sciences, or traditional engineering disciplines, such as agricultural engineering or environmental engineering.

Aquaculture is a fast-growing industry trying to meet increasing worldwide demand for fish, shellfish, seaweeds, and other aquatic species. Because fish are the major product of the industry, aquaculture is commonly known as fish farming. Fish and other aquatic species are bred, grown, harvested, and processed under controlled conditions designed to maximize yield and profits and minimize costs and environmental impacts.

Fish farms and similar facilities are quite water dependent. Some operations raise their crops outdoors, often in cages placed in natural or manmade water bodies. Freshwater species may be grown in ponds or reservoirs, while marine species are typically raised in ocean waters. These are called low-intensity processes, because they take place in open environments where engineers may have only limited control over some operational aspects. High-intensity aquaculture is practiced in tanks or other indoor facilities where conditions can be tightly controlled and maintained.

Aquaculture engineering is deeply concerned with water issues, especially water circulation and water quality. These areas require expertise in hydrology, hydraulics, and aspects of oceanography, civil engineering, and environmental engineering. Aquaculture engineers are often called on to design or oversee the operation and maintenance of pumps, piping systems, and other water transport equipment. Knowledge of water chemistry is also crucial. Marine aquaculture operations using sea water and freshwater aquaculture facilities using inland waters have vastly different water chemistry requirements.

Waste generation and handling are major concerns in fish farming, because many animals are confined to a limited space. Waste materials include urine, fecal matter, uneaten food, and dead fish carcasses. These wastes pose a health hazard to fish in confined enclosures and are an environmental problem in inland and ocean waters. This means waste treatment, removal, and disposal systems are needed at most large-scale aquaculture facilities.

Biological science, particularly the biology of aquatic species, is another key component of aquaculture engineering. Knowledge of biological science is necessary to design and operate systems that will keep living creatures healthy and thriving. It's also key to meeting their environmental needs for reproduction.

In addition to these core skills, aquaculture engineering typically requires expertise in other areas. One example is overseeing the design and construction of buildings, facilities, and outdoor water bodies or tanks. The processing of aquatic species into end products may require specialized machinery, including robotics or automated systems. Sophisticated water quality monitoring, testing, and control equipment is often used in aquaculture operations. Computer modeling also may be needed to predict or simulate water quality conditions or fish production over time under varying operational conditions.

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