This project moves from the IMTA approach towards an innovative self-sufficient integrated multi-trophic aquaponic system (SIMTAP) for small scale, labour-intensive and environmentally-friendly marine fish and halophytic plants production adapted to the typical socio-economic and climatic condition of Mediterranean areas. Among the culture systems, conventional marine net-pen has the lowest impact, while typical land-based freshwater recirculating system has a much higher impact, due to a large use of materials and energy, at least an order of magnitude higher than those of the net-pen. The ecological footprint is a measure for the natural ecosystem area needed to support the farming process. Tyedmers assessed that in British Columbia (Canada) on a species specific basis, farmed chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) appropriated the largest total area of ecosystem support at 16 ha/tonne, followed by farmed Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) at 12.7 ha/tonne, and commercially caught chinook and coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch) at 11 ha/tonne and 10.2 ha/tonne, respectively (Tyedmers, 2000). The current increase of terrestrial vegetable proteins in fish feed has serious implications on the LCA. Modern feed mills use energy-intensive processes to remove polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) from wild fish and so called antinutrients from terrestrial plants, in order to achieve an acceptable feed digestibility in farmed fish. It should also be noted that some fishmeal and fish oils are made from wild fish containing high levels of heavy metals, dioxins and PCBs, which are considered unsuitable for processing. It is technically possible to decontaminate fish oil, but this of course increases its price (Le Gouvello et al., 2017). Therefore, the aquaculture industry, which is forecasted to grow dramatically over the next decades (WBR, 2018), needs alternative sources, for instance insects, zooplankton and deposit/filter feeders, as fish feed (FAO, 2013).

For more information please visit full project website

Period of Implementation

Jun 1, 2019 - May 31, 2023
Total Budget

EUR 953,445.00



The main goal of SIMTAP is to define, design, set up and test an innovative food production system that drastically reduce, on one side, the required fish feed inputs (e.g., fishmeal, fish oil, soybean, etc.) and the consumption of resources (water, energy), and, on the other side, the production of waste and pollution, decreasing the Life Cycle impact on the environment of this segment of the food industry. Moreover, SIMTAP can be coupled with the re-use of the effluents from greenhouse soilless cropping systems, in a cascade effect acting both as a bioremediation of wastewater (run-off) from greenhouse cultivations, and as a recycling of the nutrients still contained in the same wastewater, thus helping the SIMTAP cycle. Besides, the water source can be either brackish or marine. The project will focus on the design of the system and process control protocols; this should allow to fully integrate water and material flows and optimize biomass conversion, thanks to the management of biological and environmental variables (e.g. temperature, light, nutrient availability and salinity). Moreover, the project aims to evaluate the effectiveness and performance of SIMTAP systems in terms of food production and use of energy, water and other resources. Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), analysis of energy consumption and emergy assessment of SIMTAP will be performed to quantify and compare the potential environmental impacts with the conventional hydroponic and aquaculture systems. Another crucial issue of this project is the economic assessment: the identification of possible payment streams (e.g. emission certificate, etc.) to realize projects in a bankable form. This action and Life Cycle Cost (LCC) studies will be specifically linked to the technical proposal for achieving reasonable prized solutions for low-medium technological level countries.


SO1 Designing a SIMTAP system with smart monitoring and control system The project aims at designing SIMTAP systems to be implemented in different contexts in Mediterranean areas. The technological specifications of every component of the systems will be identified and reported in a document. SO2 Development of four SIMTAP prototypes in different geographic contexts Four prototypes will be built in different Mediterranean countries (Italy, Turkey, France, and Malta) with diversified environmental and salinity conditions. Various combinations of inputs will be considered in order to optimize biomass production based on local specific features, opportunities and constraints. SO3 Evaluation of effectiveness, efficiency and performance of SIMTAP systems The prototypes will be evaluated in terms of biomass, food and feed production, and waste production in comparison with conventional aquaculture and hydroponic systems. SO4 Development of Decision Support System (DSS) for SIMTAP implementation A DSS aimed at defining the optimal locations of SIMTAP systems in the different contexts will be developed in GIS environment with a multi-criteria approach. Moreover, in order to conduct a sustainability assessment, aggregating the different indicators proposed by the different methods (LCA, LCC, Emergy), a qualitative approach based on decision trees will be carried out, applying a decision support system software stemmed from DEX methodology. SO5 Quality assessment of food productsThe objective is to assess the physical and chemical quality of food produced within the SIMTAP systems. SO6 LCA of SIMTAP Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) will be carried out in order to assess environmental impacts from each SIMTAP system. Different parameters will be determined per unit of food produced to describe the use of resources and the environmental impacts. SO7 Economic assessment of SIMTAP Life Cycle Cost (LCC) will be carried out in order to assess the economic performances of each SIMTAP system under investigation. LCC analysis will provide a detailed account of the total costs of a SIMTAP system over its expected life.

Problems and Needs Analysis

The increase in fish farming has various direct and indirect environmental impacts due to the production of feed ingredients, the disposal of farm effluents (organic matters, nitrogen, phosphorus, etc.), disease transmission, dispersal of non-native species and destruction of habitats (Pelletier and Tyedmers, 2008; Pelletier et al., 2009). Moreover, fish farming strongly depends on fisheries (Naylor et al., 2009) as it is the main consumer of fishmeal (68%) and fish oil (about 89%). In standard marine aquaculture, the weight ratio between forage fish and marketable fish ranges between 0.6 and 2.0 as average (Tacon and Metian, 2008). Fishmeal and fish oil are used in the diets of aquaculture species in large part because of the fact that they are an excellent source of Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) and proteins with suitable amino acid profiles. Fishmeal and fish oils from forage fisheries are still the benchmark in terms of nutritional quality for farmed species. If these fisheries are responsibly managed and traceability is ensured, their use in aquaculture feed can be maintained. However, given the continued global growth of aquaculture, it would be necessary to use these valuable raw materials in the most economical way possible, reserving their use for particular stages of farming such as spawning, larval and juvenile stages or as finishing feed.

Intervention Strategy(ies)

Integrated Multitrophic Aquaculture (IMTA) is one of the most promising pathways in the evolution of sustainable aquaculture systems (Troell et al. 2003). IMTA integrates complementary species of the trophic chain living in different compartments of the ecosystem. Inorganic and organic wastes from fed aquaculture species (e.g. finfish) are respectively assimilated by autotrophic species (e.g. phytoplankton, micro/macroalgae and higher plants) and heterotrophic species (e.g. oysters, mussels, crustacean, echinoderms and polychaetes) that are co-cultured with the fed aquaculture species. Basically, IMTA systems have been designed in order to: i) optimize the use of nutrients and energy in the production loop, in order to decrease the dependence on external inputs, and increase the system efficiency; ii) decrease the waste effluent and bio-deposit impacts by limiting the loss of nutrients (in water, sediments and air); iii) diversify farm-products and generate a more robust source of income (less dependent on mono-product markets); iv) generate and use different types and levels of ecosystem services.

Impact Pathway

- Design of public policies aimed at enhancing adoption of innovation suited to improve farmers’ livelihoods. - Implementation of tools (best practices, decision support system, models, discussion and co-development platforms) that can assist farmers to improve farm management in a risky and uncertain environment, and secure a sustainable income. - Delivery of participatory approaches for integrating farmers’ knowledge in the innovation process. - Growth of rural employment and poverty alleviation - Contribute to a balanced territorial development - Transferability - Reduction of the environmental impact - Lower volatile production costs and stable profitability - Reduction of dependence on international markets

Note: if you need to move a link detach it and re-link it again

links budget to project work package
links work package to another work package
links work package to research outcome
links outcome to SDG
links research outcome to development outcome
links research or development outcome to IDO
links work package to development outcome
links SDG to target