The overall aim of aquaculture systems projects is the selection, testing and development of integrated aquaculture innovations relevant to local needs and conditions, that can be undertaken in participation with farmers in farm-based trials integrated with on-station research and contextual information collection. The projects are conducted in collaboration with bilateral projects and local institutions to add value to existing efforts, to build local capacity and to offer the opportunity for sustainability. The systems in rain-fed areas that are targeted are marginal and sometimes characterised by opportunities for supplementation of erratic or insufficient rainfall by additional water resources. To research the complex and diverse nature of marginal systems requires the development of a partnership between farmers, extension workers and scientists. Although these systems have received less attention from researchers, they are vital to the farm families who work them and are increasingly important in the context of the global agriculture and aquaculture production base.

Key research projects at present include Tilapia in the UK, funded by Rural Economy and Land Use Programme.

The group manages the Aquaculture and Fish Genetics Research Programme (AFGRP) on behalf of the UK Government Department for International Development (DFID) Learn more.

The Systems Group in Action


 Production systemsMarkets and marketing
UK Small-scale, modularised recirculation systems with potential as diversification options for farmers or even garage-based production in city centres Niche market opportunities for quality producers, capitalising on local production with a low carbon footprint (RELU/RCUK funding)
International In Bangladesh with local partner organisations to explore and promote tilapia fingerling production in seasonally flooded rice fields (see below)

With commercial tilapia producers in Africa to improve efficiency
Technical inputs into international production and marketing standards

Developing networks of local fry traders in Bangladesh to provide quality seed away from traditional market places (see below)


Enhancing the impact of decentralised seed production is a major DIFD funded project which is rolling out techniques for the small-scale production of high quality tilapia and carp seed close to the point of use throughout NW Bangladesh. The project builds upon earlier DIFD funded work to bring appropriate, low cost and highly effective fish seed production techniques to 21,000 natural resource dependent households. High rates of adoption and the increased production of this key input for aquaculture are already leveraging huge economic multiplier effects throughout the value chain for aquaculture in the region and stimulating aquaculture development in a fish deficit area, bringing with it a wide array of associated benefits.

Adult tilapia are stocked in irrigated rice fields where they breed, allowing rice farming households to sell or restock the resultant fingerlings, which provides a source of food and/or income at critical times of year. Women and the socially excluded are key target groups for the project partners.



Aquaponics is the integration of aquaculture with hydroponics. The system uses the wastes from growing fish to feed plants and the plants to clean the water for the fish.

Aquaponics is all about increasing the efficiency and integration of resources, such as water, energy and nutrients. Waste products are converted into valuable resources; in essence the system grows fish with a harvestable bio-filter. Water is continuously recirculated through the self-contained, closed-loop system, therefore the impacts on the environment are minimal.

The System Group, through collaboration with the renewable energy industry, has developed greenhouse-based aquaponics systems that utilise heat pump technologies for temperature control. The system is cooled during the day with the heat generated stored in the water of the system to be extracted at night to balance diurnal temperature fluctuations.

We hope to support and monitor the adoption of these systems across the UK in schools and community development projects, as well as exploring commercial applications across Europe and low-tech methodologies for developing world contexts. The systems aim to promote local sustainable production of food as well as providing educational and community resources.

The first three systems are currently being built in Wakefield under the ABLE project and interest and momentum for the concept is growing.

Urban (as a change from rural!)

Edible aquatic plants production is currently not included in FAO statistics for aquaculture, however they are commonly eaten as a daily and nutritious part of the diet by millions of people in SE Asian towns and cities. This vast “Hidden Harvest” is often cultivated in peri-urban areas often re-using and recycling urban waste water. As well as bringing cheap food to local markets, it also provides significant employment and income for thousands of poor citizens - particularly women. EU funding to the PAPUSSA project enabled the investigation of the status and future potential of such low input aquatic production systems.

We have also researched urban fish production systems in Africa.



Promoting sustainable high quality river catfish seed production in Vietnam is a collaborative project between the University of Stirling and Can Tho University in Southern Vietnam, sponsored by the British Council’s Prime Minister’s Initiative2. The two year project is designed to strengthen links between the two institutions and deliver a comprehensive evaluation of issues affecting the quality of Pangasius catfish seed. Vietnamese Pangasius exports topped 1 million tons in 2007 and look set to grow in the coming years, and this staggering expansion of export-led production in has had extremely significant livelihood impacts within the Mekong Delta. Further development may be threatened by a range of factors including deteriorating seed quality. The project aims to deliver a state of the system analysis for the seed sector and look for ways to strengthen linkages between the public and private sectors in order to pre-empt the possibility of such occurrences.


Increasing energy costs, reduced availability of water and demand for quality assured food is driving research and development into more efficient and cost effective recirculation technologies. The Systems Group is currently involved in commercial development of several innovative solutions that you should see on the market soon.