Direct Use Geothermal for
Aquacultural Applications

Aquaculture is the raising of fish and other aquatic animals in a controlled environment — basically, it is the farming of fish, shellfish, and other freshwater or marine (saltwater) creatures. Using geothermal water in aquaculture helps keep water temperatures consistent, which increases survival rates and makes the creatures grow faster.

Low-temperature geothermal resources that are not hot enough to produce electricity are very useful to fish farmers. Animals grown in water of the proper temperature grow faster and larger than those in cold water or water with fluctuating temperatures. They are also more resistant to disease and die less frequently. Fish farmers with access to geothermal water can use it to regulate the temperatures of their fish ponds. Though the mechanism to accomplish this can be complicated, basically what happens is that the fish farmer opens valves to allow geothermal water to flow into the fish ponds until they reach the desired temperature. The valves are then closed to prevent the water from getting too hot. The mechanism is similar to adding hot water to a bathtub to bring the temperature to the desired level.

Water flow can be adjusted throughout the year to account for air temperatures. Most ponds contain some mechanism to circulate the water and keep it all at an even temperature. Aquaculture operations usually have several ponds, which are kept small enough to be heated or cooled easily.

Current uses of aquacultural applications

Geothermal water has played a role in aquaculture for more than thirty years. In the 1970s the Oregon Institute of Technology began using runoff from the school's geothermal heating system to heat water used to raise freshwater prawns. In Arizona, fish farmers use geothermal waters between 80 and 105 F (26 and 41 C) to raise bass, catfish, and tilapia. The Salton Sea and Imperial Valley areas in southern California are home to about fifteen aquaculture operations. These fish farms produce about ten million pounds of fish every year, mostly catfish, striped bass, and tilapia, which are almost all sold in California.

People in other nations have also taken advantage of geothermal water for aquaculture. There are geothermal eel farms in Slovakia. Geothermal fisheries in Iceland grow arctic char, salmon, abalone, and other fish and shellfish. China has over 500 acres of geothermal fish farms, while Japanese fish farms grow eels and alligators. There are also fish farms in France, Greece, Israel, Korea, and New Zealand. The main species raised in geothermal waters are catfish, bass, trout, tilapia, sturgeon, giant freshwater prawns, alligators, snails, coral, and tropical fish. The warmth of geothermal water makes it possible to raise tropical marine (saltwater) species in cold, landlocked places such as Idaho.

Some creatures have a range of temperatures in which they thrive. For example, catfish and shrimp grow at about 50 percent of optimum rate at temperatures between 68 and 79 F (20 and 26 C) and grow fastest at about 90 F (32 C), but they decline at temperatures higher than that. Trout thrive at around 60 F (15.5 C) but dislike lower or higher temperatures.

Scientists are investigating using geothermal aquaculture to grow plants that humans and animals could eat. Possible crops include kelp, duckweed, algae, and water hyacinth. The technology still needs research to allow economically worthwhile harvesting and processing.

Benefits and drawbacks of geothermal aquacultural applications

Like other direct uses of geothermal water, aquaculture allows an area to make use of groundwater that may not be hot enough to generate electricity but is still hot enough to be useful as hot water. Arizona, for example, has a great deal of geothermal water that is under 300 F (149 C), which cannot generate electricity but is very useful in aquaculture.

The fish grown in geothermal fisheries are healthier and stronger than fish grown in unheated fish ponds. Fish farmers can regulate temperature throughout the year to make sure the fish grow to a consistent size year-round. However, fish farmers must be careful to regulate water temperature. The water in and near the pipes bringing in the hot groundwater can get very hot, creating pockets that are too hot for fish. For aquaculture to work well, there must be a source of cool water in addition to the hot water. Some geothermal fisheries collect geothermal water in holding ponds and let it cool in order to regulate pond temperatures. If the water does not circulate evenly there can also be cold spots. This can make the fish crowd into areas where the temperature is at the right level.

The hot pipes also can be dangerous to human workers who must wade into the pools for repairs, feeding, and harvesting.

Impact of geothermal aquacultural applications

A farm that uses geothermal water is not burning fossil fuels or other sources of heat to regulate water temperature and is therefore not emitting pollutants. Many geothermal aquaculture operations use water that has already been used by geothermal power plants or heating systems. The water has lost most of its heat but is still hot enough to raise the temperature of the fish ponds.

Aquaculture itself has both good and bad aspects for the environment. It takes pressure off wild fisheries, many of which have been severely overfished. In some areas, however, it contributes to water pollution.

Economically, using geothermal energy to heat water for aquaculture can have many benefits. Places that use water that has already been used for heating or electricity generation can heat their fish ponds essentially for no cost. They can also enjoy the economic benefit of selling the fish or prawns that they produce. Fish grown in geothermally heated water grow faster.. Heated water makes it possible to grow fish in winter when it ordinarily would not be possible. Selling tropical fish for the pet store market can be quite profitable. Developing nations can export their fish produce for good prices, bringing foreign capital into the country.

Direct Use Geothermal for Aquacultural Applications copyright