PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE OCEANIC INSTITUTE
A joint project of the Oceanic Institute and the University of Hawaii will study the effects of open-ocean aquaculture conducted in submerged cages.
Down on the fish farm
Researchers win a grant to improve aquaculture off Oahu and the Big Isle
The Oceanic Institute and University of Hawaii have received $400,000 for research on open-ocean fish farming.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration grant is part of a multimillion-dollar national effort to help the United States catch up to other countries in caged aquaculture.
Collaborating with the researchers are Cates International, which has been raising moi (Pacific threadfin) in cages off Ewa and Kona Blue Water Farms, raising kahala (amberjack) off Kona.
"The two major companies are rapidly expanding and going great guns," said Charles Laidley, program manager of Oceanic Institute's Finfish Department and principal investigator for the Hawaii Offshore Aquaculture Research Project.
"We just want to ensure that it (caged aquaculture) continues to develop sustainably and that we provide critical information to the public to make them confident that what they're doing is good."
Co-investigators are Teresa Lewis of the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology and Chuck Helsley, former director of the Hawaii Institute of Geophysics and Planetology and Sea Grant researcher emeritus.
Helsley and Laidley worked with Cates International in 1999 to do the first demonstration project for open ocean fish farming. It had "very positive results" and led to development of Cates International and Kona Blue, Laidley said.
Cates International has produced more than 1 million pounds of moi in its four offshore cages but is regrouping now and reinvesting in construction of a hatchery, said Randy Cates.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE OCEANIC INSTITUTE
Melissa Carr, a finfish researcher at the institute, shows a kahala destined for hatchery production.
"The bottleneck has been a supply of fingerlings," he said, explaining the hatchery will have a capacity for about 10 million fry per year. "It is a big, expensive venture. We have a lot of learning to do," he said of the expanded research collaboration.
At Kona Farms, Chief Executive Officer Mike Wink said, "We're feeling very optimistic about our ability to help revolutionize the world of fish farming by doing it in the deep ocean with hatchery-based production."
Sustainable fish production and consumer health are primary goals, he said, "and at the same time, the market is educated to the point where there is a tremendous economic opportunity in pursuing these goals."
Laidley said he and Lewis will work on genetic management of the brood stock and development of microsatellite markers, or little pieces of DNA, to identify and characterize genetics of a fish.
This will help determine how much genetic variation is in the population and "who's the progeny of who," he said. "It's kind of like DNA fingerprinting but a little different."
The two also will study health management of the brood stocks, fish coming out of the hatchery and cages to ensure that the stocks are all healthy, he said. They also will investigate any interaction of the cultured stocks with fish in the wild. Environmental monitoring is the third thrust of the research effort, which Helsley has already been doing, Laidley said. He's trying to better understand the relationship among the fish, the cage and surrounding area, to ensure the cages are not having a significant impact on the environment, Laidley said.
Wink said the work Oceanic Institute has been doing and that the commercial companies are doing with them "is to help confirm what we believe we know" and to learn about the benefits of open-ocean fish farming.
Kona Blue began operations in October 2004, put its first cage in the water in early 2005 and harvested and marketed its first fish as Kona kampachi last October, Wink said. The company has five submersible cages and has ordered a sixth, he said.
"We were not sure how well the market would receive it ... Now, we have more buyers than fish. We're working on increasing capacity and refining our processes to meet market demand."