Expansion to halt fish supply


POSTED: Thursday, November 05, 2009

Kona Blue Water Farms LLC is proceeding with plans to expand into Mexico and make structural changes to its Big Island operations, which will take its popular Kona Kampachi off store shelves and restaurant menus for about six months.

The company, which introduced the farmed yellowtail fish to chef's kitchens throughout the United States in 2005, has secured funding to develop a second mariculture farm in Mexico's Sea of Cortez at a site within easy trucking distance of the U.S. mainland, where about 80 percent of the company's fish is purchased.

Kona Blue Water Farms plans to stock net pens with fingerlings in Mexico before the end of the year and will build a land-based hatchery. The newest farm, located in the Bay of La Paz some five miles off the coast of Baja California, will help the company minimize air freight requirements, thereby increasing its production volumes and reducing delivery costs.

“;We're very pleased that our expansion plans are progressing,”; said Neil Anthony Sims, Kona Blue's president and chief executive officer.

The company will hold to the same rigorous standards and product quality in La Paz, Sims said. However, the offshore fish will still be marketed as Kona Kampachi “;sustainably grown in Mexico,”; said Kelly Coleman, Kona Blue's vice president of marketing.

The company's expansion into Mexico will not limit its role in Hawaii, Coleman said.

“;We want to stay in Hawaii because this is where we started and we want to serve the local market,”; she said.

However, Kona Blue is switching from submersible pens to surface pens off the coast of Keahole Point. This move, which will take advantage of Norwegian surface cage technology and use Kikkonet material, will reduce the dive time needed to harvest the fish, Sims said.

But, because of the changes to the company's Hawaii operations, the fish, which has made its way to President Barack Obama's plate at Alan Wong's and is sold in sushi bars, high-end restaurants and grocery stores throughout the U.S., will not be available from now until May.

“;This isn't something that we are happy about, obviously, but it's what we have to do in order to grow our company,”; Coleman said.

While it's not uncommon to have gaps in availability within the seafood industry, one of the benefits of aquaculture is having a consistent supply, she said.

Last year, Kona Blue sold 500 tons—its highest volume ever—of Kona Kampachi, Coleman said.

“;We expect to produce 500 tons in Mexico, too,”; she said. “;It should be ready to market by next November, but we'll have fish in Hawaii by May.”;