The demand for fish and seafood is increasing faster than natural fish stocks can reproduce leading to increased prices. Strong steady demand for fish has spurred the growth of intensive fish culture. In the Great Lakes area, yellow perch and sunfish are in high demand for weekly fish fries. Open pond culture has been the traditional cultural method in the Midwest but environmental regulations and restrictions on pond building is forcing the use of water recirculation system. These systems are compact and can be located near or within urban areas where markets exist. Recirculation systems have the advantage of being able to control the environment to optimize growth, eliminate predator issues, conserve water and reduce disease transmission from wild fish. The disadvantage of recirculation systems is that they are energy intensive because water is continuously being pumped to remove waste and supply oxygen.


Illustration of Air Lift Pump

Air Lift Pumps
A centrifugal pump is the standard method for moving water in recirculation systems. An airlift pump can be used in place of a centrifugal pump for low head pumping of water. The airlift pump works by using the buoyancy produced by entraining air bubbles in a water column to lift and move water. An airlift pump also serves several other functions including aeration (adding oxygen to the water), carbon dioxide removal and foam fractionation (removal of dissolved particles). Energy costs for using an airlift pump for pumping and aeration are about thirty-five percent less than the cost of a conventional pumping system. The capital costs for an air lift pump of similar capacity are significantly less. The pump column is made mostly of PVC plumbing components and the air is supplied by a fractional horsepower air compressor for a small system. The photo shows an air lift pump system for an 800 gallon growing tank.

Air Lift Pump on 800 gallon recirculation fish tank

Air Lift Pump on 800 gallon Recirculation fish tank


Airlift pumps can be used to move water for circulation in round tanks. The following is an evaluation of two sidewall airlift pump units.

Sidewall Airlift Box, S. Summerfelt, D. Schiro – Fresh Water Institute & T. Pfeiffer – USDA-ARS

Additional information about airlift pumps can be found here.

Aquaculture Resources Associations

Wisconsin Aquaculture Association –

Aquacultural Engineering Society –
Aquaculture Center for Training, Education and Demonstration –
Freshwater Institute –
National Aquaculture Association –

North Central Regional Aquaculture Center –
World Aquaculture Society –
University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute –

Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant –

Government Agencies

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources –

Aquaculture –

Pond Building –

Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection

Aquaculture information –

College Aquaculture Programs

University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point Aquaculture Program –

UW-Stevens Point – Northern Aquaculture Demonstration Facility – click here
Cornell University Aquaculture Program –
SUNY-Morrisville Aquaculture Science Program –
SUNY-Cobleskill Fisheries and Aquaculture Program –
Virginia Tech Aquaculture Center –
UC-Davis, Biological & Agricultural Engineering – Aquaculture Engineering –
University of the Virgin Islands Aquaculture Short Course –

K-12 Classroom Resources

University of Arizona – Aquaculture in the Classroom –

Delaware Sea Grant –

Aquaculture for Teachers – University of Maine –

Overfishing and Aquaculture (Grades 6-8) – National Ag in the Classroom –

Aquaculture Educator Resources – Florida –

If you have questions about the information on this site, please contact
Scott Sanford, Distinguished Outreach Specialist, University of Wisconsin,