At UMD’s Aquaponics Lab, the Farmers Have Fins

New Greenhouse Will Triple Research, Education of Sustainable Farming Method

ENST's Dr. Jose-Luis Izursa works in his aquaponics lab in UMD's Animal Science Building. The lab will open a new, larger aquaponics facility later this month in a greenhouse facility near the Xfinity Center.

Image Credit: John T. Consoli

February 9, 2024 Maggie Haslam

In a modest, ground-floor lab deep within University of Maryland’s Animal Science Building, a redhead who goes by “Gru” is tending to a new crop of lettuce. Gru is cool, impossible to miss because of his hulking size, and drips indifference; he’ll meet your greeting with a blank stare as he chills in a quiet corner with his buddies.

Gru isn’t first string on the wrestling team or a jacked fraternity brother. He’s a goldfish. And he’s an integral part of the University of Maryland’s aquaponics lab, its first and only research and education venture dedicated to the sustainable farming method. Here, he and around 100 of his finned friends have just one job: to feed the herbs, lettuces and other veggies growing above them with their waste.

“It’s an increasingly popular method for growing food that can be done just about anywhere, and the students love it,” said Jose-Luis Izursa, a senior lecturer and academic adviser in the Department of Environmental Science and Technology. “There’s some hesitation from people because it involves fish waste. But what do they think fertilizer is?”

A farming practice that dates back to the Aztecs, aquaponics combines aquaculture (the cultivation of fish) with hydroponics (the practice of growing plants in nutrient-rich water without soil). The aquaponics cycle is both simple and symbiotic: Nutrient-rich wastewater is pumped from the fish tank into a series of filters, where “good” bacteria break down ammonia into nitrates, which the plants “eat,” flushing clean, oxygenated water back into the fish tank.

Read full story on Maryland Today site