Fish farm gets OK to
use cages off Big Isle

A Big Island company that hopes to raise a variety of high-quality fish in submerged cages off the Kona Coast moved a step closer to its goal Friday.

The Board of Land and Natural Resources gave Kona Blue Water Farms permission to pursue its project just northwest of Keahole Point.

"Great! We're really excited," company President Dale Sarver said about the land board's approval of a conservation district use application for the fish farm.

It marked a milestone on a 2 1/2 year journey of research, preparation, community meetings and environmental studies.

Just recently the company, a division of Black Pearls Inc., succeeded in hatching ulua in captivity. Those popular fish, along with kahala (amberjack) and mahimahi (dolphinfish) would be the first species to be raised in the array of six cages that are 80 feet wide, 60 feet tall and bi-conical (shaped like two cones that are joined at their wide ends).

Health Department and Army Corps of Engineers permits are among the other governmental approvals needed before construction starts, Sarver said, as well as some investors to provide capital for several million dollars worth of cages and equipment.

Construction and installation of cages in the 200-foot-deep water will take at least three months, he said.

According to guidelines approved by the land board, the large cages will be anchored at least 20 feet underwater. Two smaller enclosures will be allowed to float on the water surface, one for fingerlings and one for fish ready to harvest.

The company also will be required to regularly monitor water quality in and around the cages and watch for any effects on spinner dolphins or humpback whales, both of which are known to frequent the area.

Jeff Walters, co-director of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, complimented the company for being "diligent in working with us and modifying their plans to minimize any impacts on humpback whales."

"We don't have any objection to this," he said.

Randy Cates, who operates Hawaii's first undersea fish farm off the Ewa Coast of Oahu, also spoke in support of the project. Cates International produces 5,000 to 6,500 pounds of Pacific threadfin per week and is the state's largest moi farmer.

Black Pearls Inc. is an aquaculture research firm based in the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority. Among its other commercial projects are plans to farm black pearl oysters in Keehi Lagoon near the Honolulu Airport, which also has received land board approval but has not begun.

According to Sarver, Kona Blue Water farms would raise ulua to papio size (1 to 1 1/2 pounds) in a matter of months. Growing kahala to a sashimi weight of 3 to 5 pounds will take at least eight months, and 1 1/2 to 2-pound mahimahi may take a year.

The company envisions 30,000 to 50,000 fish in each cage, which would only contain one species at a time, Sarver said. It hopes to harvest fish two or three times per week when it's in full operation.

"We'll sell as much as possible here," he said. "Then we'll go to mainland and overseas markets."


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