I first learned of this Hawaii venture from “Catching the Aquaculture Wave” by Michael De Alessi Reason Foundation 2004. This is a good survey piece on what the tragedy of the commons fisheries “management” practices have wrought, and how the demand for fin-fish might be sustainably satisfied.
I’m not ready to agree with the title of this Seattle PI article “‘Guilt-free’ fish farming arrives“, but these developments do look promising. Kona Blue Water Farms is a venture-backed Hawaii startup, raising kahala (also known as Hawaiian yellowtail and almaco jack), or Seriola rivoliana. This fish was very nearly fished out in Hawaii — before Kona Blue’s aquaculture there was no commercial marketing (Hawaii locals call this fish “moi”).
The offshore cages chosen by Kona Blue are the Sea Station system — developed by Ocean Spar Technologies, which is a venture of Bainbridge Island’s Net Systems. Who incidentally make the very best catamaran netting that we know of — a woven Spectra net chosen for PLAYSTATION. Here’s more:
(…) Unlike salmon farms, which tend to be in protected bays near the shore, Kona Blue’s ranch is a half-mile offshore. A half-mile might not seem far, but it puts the fish cages in waters that reach more than 200 feet deep. Kona Blue leases 90 acres of open ocean from the state of Hawaii, though it actively uses just nine acres.
The cages in which Kona Kampachi grow are called Sea Stations, which are made by Oceanspar, a division of a company on Bainbridge Island that specializes in commercial fishing gear called Net Systems.
A Sea Station is a UFO-shaped contraption made of a galvanized steel and nets. The structure consists of a 65-foot-tall center pole called a spar and a “Saturn” ring made of 12 segments, and stretches 80 feet in diameter. Triangular swaths of net woven of Dyneema, a fiber used in bulletproof vests, are attached to the steel frame.
“It’s two dodecahedral cones inverted so that their bases abut,” said Sims, president of Kona Blue. “It’s shaped like a Chinese lantern.”
Langley Gace, ocean engineer and aquaculture manager at Oceanspar, explained the construction: “It’s a bicycle wheel with an extruded axle … which is good for size and strength,” and for maintaining a fixed volume. The net walls are stiff and taut enough to withstand tough water conditions.
“Regardless of the currents, (the Sea Station) always has 3,000 cubic meters. For fish health, you don’t put them in a cage with moving walls.”
These unique cages are fully submersible and can be raised halfway out of the water for harvesting or cleaning. Kona Blue owns four Sea Stations, which house a total of about 140,000 fish. One more cage will be added this summer.
Movement of the cages depends on pneumatics. A diver takes an air hose that’s connected to an air compressor on a boat and hooks it up to the spar, which functions like a submarine ballast that can be filled alternately with air or water to shift the cage above or below the surface. Depending on the compressor used, the process of raising the cage can take 10 to 40 minutes.
When the cages are fully submerged, the tip of the spar is 30 feet below the surface. At this depth, the Sea Stations and the fish contained within are protected from storms that would wreak havoc on standard surface cages — hence the need for salmon farms, which rely on surface cages, to be located in protected bays.
For a review of the range of offshore cage offerings, see “Offshore cage systems — a practical overview” [PDF].
OK, what about the input/output ratio? Salmon farming has demonstrated a very unfavorable 3 to 5 ratio (e.g., 5 kg. of fish meal to produce 1 kg. of market salmon). Kona Blue claims 1:1 input/output as follows:
Seriola rivoliana, whether it’s the wild kahala or the cultivated Kona Kampachi, is a carnivorous fish.
“The Kona project may be better than most fish farm operations, but as long as they are raising carnivores, there will be a protein loss, not gain,” said Bellingham-based Anne Mosness, who directs the Go Wild campaign for the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. …”It isn’t sustainable. It creates a high-value fish for diners in wealthier nations and it causes prices and marketplace of wild fish to plummet.”
Wink, who considers himself a socially conscious entrepreneur, recognizes that the feed Kona Blue gives its fish is “the big attack point.”
“We are trying to do this in as sustainable a way as possible,” Wink said. “The fish meal comes from sustainably caught fisheries.”
Kona Blue uses a feed made by EWOS, a Norwegian-owned company based in Surrey, B.C.
(…) To minimize the feed used, the fish are fed once a day. This keeps them ravenous enough that at meal time the food released into the cages is devoured quickly, which helps prevent pellets from drifting into the ocean.
Kona Blue has found that once-a-day feeding creates an optimum food conversion ratio: It takes 1 pound of dried feed to produce 1 pound of fish. With farmed salmon, that ratio is 3 to 5 pounds of feed to 1 pound of fish.
Dr. Albert Tacon, of the University of Hawaii at Manoa, is a worldwide expert in aquatic nutrition and feed technology research. He believes that it is possible to raise carnivores sustainably, “provided that we can find sustainable feed ingredient sources and feeds that keep pace with the development of the sector.
“I think if anyone can conduct offshore aquaculture in an environmentally responsible way, it is Kona Blue. Their track record to date has been one of complete openness and transparency — this is so refreshing in an emerging industry which has had its share of ups and downs.”
Is this a profitable, scalable entreprise? Well it doesn’t look to good according to “The false promise of ocean aquaculture in Hawaii” . This critical article was produced by foodandwaterwatch.org who may have priorities inconsistent with objective reporting. Anyhow, therein I learned that Kona Blue has sold the farm and lease:
KBWF has demonstrated that its model of commercial aquaculture is not profitable.In January 2010, KBWF sold its ocean fish farm to Keahole Point Fish LLC.27,28 Despite $1.8 million in funding from NOAA, nearly $200,000 in federal stimulus grants and contracts, Hawai`i high-tech tax credits, nearly $10 million from investors and a product sold only in high-end restaurants and retailers, KBWF did not achieve a level of profitability to sustain its grow-out operations.29,30,31,32,33 On January 8, 2010, the Board of Land and Natural Resources unanimously approved the transfer of KBWF’s lease for 90 acres of Hawaiian waters to a company registered just two months prior as a foreign LLC in Delaware — Keahole Point Fish LLC. The board failed to question the applicants who were present at the meeting about their experience and how they proposed to turn the failing KBWF into a profitable enterprise.36 KBWF will continue to manage sales and marketing of Kona Kampachi as well as conduct research at their land-based hatchery at Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawai`i Authority.
One a more positive note, “OPEN OCEAN CAGE CULTURE“, summarizes some of the University of Hawaii Sea Grant work on this project. Principal investigator Charles Helsley. From this I learned that the these cages also perform as FADs, i.e., Fish Aggregating Devices. So outside the cages there should be enhanced productivity.
Popular Science has a decent survey article on OOA (offshore ocean aquaculture). For the fishing industry perspective, try World Fishing Today.
If your library has access, there are volumes of peer-reviewed papers at Journal of the World Aquaculture Society. E.g., “The Value of a Net-Cage as a Fish Aggregating Device in Southern California’.