System Design

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An aquaculture system must be designed to provide a healthy environment for the target fish or plant, and this

*In the context of this article, fish may be a finfish such as trout or catfish, or a crustacean such as shrimp or lobsters, or a mollusk such as oysters or clams.

must be achieved within constraints inherent in the choice of location where the facility is to be constructed. Other considerations that need to be taken into account include: marketing, economics, and regulatory restrictions. The procedure for the development of an aquaculture system is summarized in Figure 1 and follows stages of data collection, evaluation, design, and construction (1,2). Background information needed includes data on the biological (or bioengineering as they are sometimes referred to) characteristics of the target species, as well as data on the site, possible markets for the product, and regulations affecting aquaculture at the chosen site. The biological data needed to quantify the relationship between the target organism and its environment include information on tolerances and optimum levels for various water quality parameters, the effect of target animal activity on water quality, space and water velocity requirements, reproductive characteristics, feeding behavior, and others. Site data are primarily related to water availability and to the quality of the water, but other factors are important, such as soil characteristics (soil permeability, physical properties affecting possible construction, and fertility), topography, climate, other land uses, transportation, and other infrastructure. Site characteristics may be considered at the level of a specific aquaculture site, or at the regional planning level, where attempts have been made at incorporating satellite imaging and geographic information system (GIS) techniques into the site characterization process (3). Desirable marketing information includes not only the type of species that is salable but also the particular requirements imposed by the market on product size, level of processing, seasonal fluctuations in demand, and so on. Last, regulatory aspects of aquaculture must not be overlooked. Restrictions on land and water use are augmented by considerations of species approvals, and in some cases by the lack of familiarity of regulators with aquaculture, and their unwillingness to consider it as a form of agriculture, rather than as an industrial enterprise. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations has recently released a "code of practice" for aquaculturists (4). The intent of the code is to promote the safe and environmentally sound development of aquaculture by encouraging aquaculture practitioners to consider the full scope of possible impacts of aquaculture installations.

A last topic on which background information should be gathered is an overall review of the methods and procedures used for the culture of the species of interest. Wherever possible this should focus on conditions that are similar to those of the planned facility.

From this point on, the design process follows fairly well established overall guidelines for engineering design. A preliminary evaluation is carried out where the background information is reviewed and an initial decision is made about the possible viability of the operation, or of the need to make changes and collect additional background information.

Once a decision has been made to proceed with the planning of a facility, detailed review of the practices used by others in the culture of the target species is undertaken. This review should be based on published information as well as on personal contacts with other producers, with

1. Organism requirements 2. Site characteristics

3. Market 4. Current practices 5. Regulations

1. Organism requirements 2. Site characteristics

3. Market 4. Current practices 5. Regulations


Figure 1. Flow diagram of the design process followed for aquaculture operations.

extension agents, and with researchers. As a first step, several alternative designs may be generated and evaluated to select the most promising one for further development. After evaluation and selection, the details of the design are completed, including estimated costs and preparation of construction documents. Evaluation of the plans and facilities should be carried out at the various stages of the process to minimize the probability of errors, as well as to ensure maximum functionality and operational efficiency for the investment. Evaluation of the completed installation will serve in the preparation of future designs or in the possible expansion of the facility.

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