FISHING FOR ANSWERS
STAR-BULLETIN / 2005
Fish farm moi came from an operation off Ewa Beach. A report in the Nov. 3 issue of the journal Science predicted that nearly all seafood populations will collapse by 2048 if overfishing and pollution continue. Companies are now applying for leases to use offshore cages to rear fish.
$400,000 grant spurs aquaculture research
Hawaii open-ocean farming steps up as wild stocks decline
DESPITE grim news of declining fish populations, Charles Laidley of the Oceanic Institute says he's "pretty optimistic" because of developments in aquaculture.
"There is general agreement that the world's fisheries, if nothing else, are maxed out," said Laidley, program manager of OI's Finfish Department and principal investigator for the Hawaii Offshore Aquaculture Research Project.
A team of ecologists and economists warned in a report in the Nov. 3 issue of the journal Science that nearly all seafood populations will collapse by 2048 if overfishing and pollution continue.
"There is no obvious way we're going to increase food production from natural fisheries," Laidley said, adding that aquaculture is the only tangible source for increasing the output of seafood.
Oceanic Institute, an affiliate of Hawaii Pacific University, is focusing on technology to produce fish for food and for the natural environment through the aquarium market, Laidley said.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently gave the institute and University of Hawaii $400,000 for research on open-ocean fish farming.
The investigators are working with Cates International, which has been raising moi (Pacific threadfin) in cages off Ewa, and Kona Blue Water Farms, which is raising kahala (amberjack) off Kona.
Three or four other firms are applying for leases and the institute is working with some to use offshore cages to rear fish, Laidley said.
"It is quite exciting. Not often do things happen that quickly in life. The goal we have been working toward is really happening."
He said more work is needed to get ornamentals to an industry level but technology is improving "and we will be able to produce alternatives to the wild collection."
Many places are far ahead of the United States in aquaculture, Laidley noted. "What's going on in China and the rest of Asia totally swamps anything we're doing." They realize "to have any more increase in population, there's got to be a way to feed them," he said.
Oceanic Institute scientists are working with colleagues in other countries to develop fish culture technology, Laidley said.
The institute was the first to experiment with offshore aquaculture but other groups are doing it across the United States and in Puerto Rico, Laidley said. They are trying to get funding through congressional action that will support their efforts on a larger scale, he said.
"It's pretty rational," he said, noting the U.S. spent about $8 billion last year on seafood imports. "We need to grow the industry to fill that void. It's a great opportunity economically and environmentally.
"We all know and we're all concerned about the natural populations of fish," Laidley said. "We're just trying to provide an alternative. We can do it and we're starting to do it."
Experts from around the world were here recently for a workshop held by the Aquaculture Interchange Program at the UH to discuss opportunities, Laidley said. The leader was Cheng-Sheng Lee, head of the Center for Tropical and Subtropical Aquaculture.
Laidley said the federal government wants to increase production from 1.1 billion to 5 billion pounds in 20 years, a five-fold increase that will require massive expansion of aquaculture.
"It's a tremendous opportunity, but overall funding is pretty low in this country. It limits expansion."
However, with two companies already producing fish in offshore cages in Hawaii and one producing in Puerto Rico, he said, "I feel pretty optimistic about it."