Austrian Alpine Aquaculture

There's been a lot of press about Aquaponics and sustainable fish farming cropping up lately, so I wanted to share this astonishingly beautiful example:

Sepp Holzer lives on a mountaintop in Austria, where he casually but thoughtfully manages a fish farm that provides all of his food, clean water, income, and electricity through nothing but a series of carefully placed pond systems. Gravity pulls the water from pond to pond, and little micro-organism-eating fish are gradually replaced by bigger and bigger predatory fish until he has clean water and full-sized trout! It's so simple it might seem like magic, but it's actually cooler than that.

You can watch another short profile about Holzer's paradise here, and go here to see Eco Film's entire series on Permaculture.


  1. Holzer is a mad genius, and I mean that in the very best way. The only drawback to his permaculture techniques is how difficult it can be to understand all the inter-relationships he’s built into his systems. Adapting even a few of his methods can produce impressive results, but wrapping your head around the total concept takes some effort. The amount of thought he’s put into seemingly small details, like the overflow pipes briefly shown above, is extraordinary.

  2. Very cool! And all you need to pull it off is title to a hundred and eleven acres in the middle of Europe. Truly, a shining example for… for the other people with hundred acre spreads (with full water rights) in European mountains!

    1. Does one require water rights to collect rainwater for the purposes of agriculture? I thought water rights were about drawing water from lakes and rivers, not about over-land flow on your property.

      As for the land issue, farming does indeed require land. If you can’t own all the land, you can usually rent it from neighboring farms as Sepp Holzer does, mentioned in one of the other clips.

      While permaculture is more difficult than conventional agriculture, it is far more sustainable ecologically. European mountains, however, are not a prerequisite.

  3. Propnomicon (first commenter) is right. Great stuff, but until one shows how it can scale to feed the hundreds millions of people living in condos or slums, without garden or balconies… it’s not going to solve any big problem

  4. Makes me proud to be Austrian!
    And “Mad Genius” (in a good way) is a very apt description for Holzer!

  5. @M. Fioretti
    You say it isn’t an “going to solve any big problem”. Does that mean that big problems aren’t worth breaking into smaller parts and trying to solve a bit at a time?

    What do you suggest/what are you doing to solve a “big problem”?

  6. One key ingredient left out of the formula: gravity. This wouldn’t work well in the flatlands of Kansas. But the genius behind this is remarkable, and the guy used the natural landscape he is familiar with to make it all work. Certainly it’s an example that, with more ingenuity, could be scaled up.

  7. I’ve love to see some real science behind this. It looks really nice out there though. I was thinking warmth and still water was good for growing algae? And how did he get the tree roots into the bottom pond? tractor? I want the dvd but a bit pricey for me, anyone getting it :0

  8. @CANTFIGHTTHEEDIT I know in some US states (especially Colorado) water rights do limit the collection of rainwater.

    From The Colorado State University Agricultural Extension:
    “Recent legislation allows limited collection and use of precipitation from residential property rooftops in cases where the landowner uses or is entitled to only certain types of well permits to use well water for their domestic non-potable water supply.”

    * The property on which the collection takes place is residential property.
    * The landowner uses a well, or is legally entitled to a well for the water supply.
    * The well is permitted for domestic uses according to Section 37-92-602 or Section 37-90-105, C.R.S..
    * There is no water supply available in the area from a municipality or water district.
    * The rainwater is collected only from the roof.
    * The water is used only for those uses that are allowed by, and identified on, the well permit.

  9. Notice the free flowing stream at the beginning and end. Do you have year round streams like this in your area? Do you have the legal right to that water? Do you have the moral right to take some (or all) of that water from that native fauna that depend on it? Do you have stable geology that can support ponds that won’t fail? Do you have a solid understanding on how your introduced species will impact the native species? Will you be introducing predators or disease that can decimate fragile native populations. The subject in the video has an incredible understanding of his area and system. He is blessed to live where he does. I can’t see this working well without negatively impacting the environment where I live, in the Mediterranean climate of northern California.

  10. Agree that this would not work everywhere. But then, isn’t that the point of permaculture? You find a solution that works where you are, and you refine it. This could work quite a few places, and unlike a lot of permaculture solutions, doesn’t doom you to a low protein/hi carb diet low in omega3s.

  11. Right – this system doesn’t have to be identically reproducible to be hugely beneficial. This is an inspiring, ideal sort of system that offers a lot of insights and specific tactics to incorporate into local systems.

  12. The solution to fish and food in your back yard is aquaponics.It recycles the water and uses less than conventional gardening and except for fish food needs very few other inputs. We got one from We have it in a courtyard and are about to eat our first fish after a year and many crops of veggies later. Can’t wait!

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