Integrated multi-trophic aquaculture (IMTA) is a relatively new concept in modern aquaculture, but it has been widely practised for centuries, particularly in Asia. One of the oldest examples is rice and fish farming, where rice fields provide the environment and habitat for fish and other aquatic animals.
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The principle is that the fish provide the nutrient inputs to benefit the plants and other species. IMTA is a more recent concept in Europe and the western world, where aquaculture has mirrored traditional agriculture focusing on mono-culture farming practises. 

The poly-culture of IMTA combines the cultivation of species from two or more different trophic levels based on their complementary ecosystem functions. For example, fed fish species with particulate organic nutrient-extractive shellfish, and dissolved inorganic nutrient-extractive seaweed or plants. 

Current aquaculture practises are generally a linear model, where the waste from the fish is released into the environment. In a more circular IMTA system, the waste from the fed species serves as nutrients to feed other species. What was previously considered waste, is now a useful 'co-product' which can be used as fertiliser, food resource, and energy by other species. 

The additional crops produced provide extra marketable biomass, facilitates economic diversification, enables bio-remediation of nitrification, increases environmental sustainability, increases societal acceptability, and allows more optimal use of space, all in a more efficient and responsible food production system.

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by Frank Kane, marine biologist, Aquaculture Section, Marine Institute, Ireland

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