I have always loved fishing for sport and for food, and going fishing at a local pond, lake, or river should definitely be part of your prepping or survival plan. However, there is an easier way to get fish for food. Several years ago, I was introduced to a guy that had a strong prepping mindset. This was long before I started writing about survival and prepping, so everything was still very new to me. We went out on his back deck, and there was an above ground pool right off of the deck. What really threw me off was that his son was pulling a catfish out of their pool. Apparently, they had filled it with fresh water and were raising catfish in the pool for food. At the time I thought it was pretty weird, but years later I learned about aquaponics and how it can be a great food source for preppers and survivalists. In this article, we will cover the benefits of raising catfish at home and how you might be able to get started.
What is Aquaponics?
Aquaponics is the raising of fish and plants together in a single growth system. In this type of system, the waste coming from the fish provides nutrients to help the plants grow. This works because there are two types of bacteria that convert ammonia to nitrites and finally to nitrates. The plants absorb this natural fertilizer and clean the water to keep the fish alive. The benefit of aquaponics is that you can start with a small investment in tanks, plants, and fish. Very quickly the fish grow and provide a huge amount of food for your family. Fish are great for a survival or prepping diet because they are high in protein and have lots of healthy fats and oils that you cannot get anywhere else.
If you strictly look at the principles and process of aquaponics, any fish should be able to survive. However, maintaining water temperature can be difficult. Many species of fish cannot handle large variations in water temperature. Catfish are a great option as they are very tough. They can deal with huge swings in water temperature. This is important when first getting started with aquaponics as you probably will need some practice with maintaining water temperature. Catfish are forgiving with all of the variables with which you will work. They are also not territorial so they will not be fighting with other fish in the tank.
The workable water temperature for catfish is 65F up to 90F. The colder that you water is, the less the catfish will eat. This means less waste to provide nutrients for the plants, so it can hinder the whole system. If you are in a climate like mine where the water temperature will dip low during part of the year, you should consider buying a heating element for the water. If you can keep the water temperature around 80F, you will maximize the benefits of your aquaponics system.
How Many Catfish Should I Have?
The number of fish per gallon of water is a key variable for your aquaponics system. If you do not have enough fish, the plants will not have the nutrients they need to survive. If you have too many then ammonia will build up in the water and the fish will die. You must get the number of fish in your tank just right. Ideally you want one pound of fish per eight gallons of water. This gives you just the right balance to keep both the fish and the plants healthy. Catfish grow faster when they are young and become fully mature after about two years. Your ideal oxygen level in the water is four to five parts per million. If you are a little high on your fish density, you may need to aerate the water at night because this is when the plants are absorbing the oxygen that the fish would need. In addition, aeration may be needed if your water temperature is higher than 85F.
Working with Catfish
There are several different types of catfish, but the one that is the most tolerant of cold temperatures and also does fine with other species of fish is the channel catfish. Local farms will have a variety of channel catfish that will thrive in your environment. Channel catfish grow incredibly fast, so they will provide a good amount of food very quickly. You should expect channel catfish to grow to roughly three pounds in weight during the first year.
The only thing you are required to do to maintain your aquaponics system is to feed the fish. You can buy fish food pellets that are specifically made for catfish. You want to feed your fish roughly 2.5% of their body weight per day. For example, with 50 adult fish averaging 2.5 lbs per fish you have a total fish weight of 125 lbs. When you take 2.5% of 125 lbs, you have 3.125 lbs of food per day for your aquaponics system.
Keep an eye on your tanks to see if there is left over food floating in the water or settling to the bottom. This indicates you are feeding them too much. If they go nuts when you come to feed them, you may not be feeding them enough. You can also feed catfish worms and insects like crickets, black soldier flies, or houseflies with the wings removed. Just be sure that you do not feed them worms with dirt still on them as it will pollute the system. Finally, you can grow plants in your tanks like algae, water lettuce, and duckweed. While these plants provide an additional food source, be careful not to let them take over your tanks. When you buy your fish, ask the vendor what plants are best for your aquaponics system in that particular client. They will help you get the plants you need to get started.
You will also need to know how to correctly handle catfish. They do not have scales, so they are more sensitive than many fish. Stay away from using standard fish nets unless you have no other choice. The rough knots will tear up their skin. Do not pick them up unless you cannot avoid it. You best bet is to use a silicone net to pick them up. These have no knots and are smooth, so the skin is not damaged.
Tanks for Catfish Aquaponics
You will have to have a large tank to set up your system if you want to have enough catfish to help feed your family. At 8 gallons of water per fish, it adds up quickly. Sure, you can raise just one or two fish in a small tank, but it probably is not worth the effort. You want to have proper filtration, flow, and aeration, so more fish in a larger tank is always a better option. For five fully grown fish weighing a maximum of three pounds per fish, you will have 15 pounds of fish needing 120 gallons of water. Maintaining your tanks is fairly easy. You should try to keep your water temperature at about 80F if possible. The pH level of the water is not as important. Catfish will do fine with anything between 7 and 8 on the pH scale, so they are reasonably tolerant.
To review the reasons why you might or might not want to set up an aquaponics system for catfish, here is the breakdown one more time:
They Grow Fast – As mentioned above, catfish will grow about three pounds in the first year. They also spawn up to nine times per year. Eggs hatch within ten days. Because of this rate of reproduction, if you start with a large tank of 30 catfish in a 700-gallon tank then after a year and a half you will have more than 60 fish growing. Because there are no predators, the baby fish should grow into adults just fine. This means that you can start with 30 small catfish and after 2.5 years you would have 180 lbs of fish, wait six months more before harvesting and you are up to 120 fish in your tanks. You will just need to add more tanks to accommodate the extra fish.
They Taste Great – Catfish have a white flaky flesh with a mild flavor. They are great sautéed, fried, poached, baked, or grilled.
They are Tolerant – Catfish can deal with a 30F range in water temperature and a full point range on the pH scale. They also do fine with other fish as they are not aggressive. Catfish are not picky with what they eat, so you have lots of choices for food sources.
They Cannot Be Handled – The only real downside is that catfish have no scales and do not do well when picked up with your hands or with a standard net. However, you really should not need to pick up your fish unless you are moving them to another tank or getting ready to eat them. If being moved to another tank, you need to use a silicone net.
As you can see, raising catfish can be much less difficult or time consuming than going fishing in your local pond, lake or river to feed your family. Keep an eye out for a deal on large used tanks. If you can keep the cost of the tanks down, there is little up-front expense. Then you just need to feed your fish, keep your plants growing, and wait for the catfish to grow and spawn. Over a few years you can easily get to the point at which you can have fish for dinner every night if you like.