Bridging a gulf in the perceptions of aquacultureSeptember 7, 2020
Can you tell us a little bit about your background and what drew you to aquaculture?
I trained as a marine biologist, and early in my career I was involved in fisheries management and research in a small island nation in the South Pacific. For fisheries such as giant clams, trochus snails and pearl oysters, it was abundantly clear to me, very early on, that simply viewing marine organisms as an extractive resource was wrong-headed, and limiting. To increase productivity of our waters, to restore the ocean’s bounty, we needed to be nurturing that which we desired. We needed to be not just taking, but also giving back.
What is Ocean Era hoping to achieve in the Gulf of Mexico?
We see the Gulf of Mexico as the proving ground for responsible offshore aquaculture in the United States. There are vast expanses of water in the Gulf in the right depth and water temperature profiles, located close to consumer markets, and there is already an established seafood industry infrastructure – boats and docks and processors and distributors who are hungry for more product.
The goal for the Velella Epsilon project is to pioneer the permitting process for offshore aquaculture in the Gulf. Gaining social licence is key – we want the support of the local fishing and boating communities. In previous iterations of the Velella projects in Hawaii, the local fishing community was highly supportive, and greatly enjoyed the fish aggregation device (FAD) effects – catching tuna, marlin and mahimahi in profusion around the offshore arrays. We want to now be able to demonstrate these potential benefits to the fishing community in the Gulf.
What have the main challenges been to date?
Any pioneering process faces a number of challenges. What we are doing here is blazing a trail. And so we understand that the process is slow, and we need to be more careful and considerate in our consultations with the community. But this is what we had expected, and it’s what we accept, as pioneers in this space.
What has your experience of farming kampachi off Hawaii taught you?
It has been a true privilege to be part of establishing the offshore aquaculture industry in Kona. As a biologist and a conservationist, it is deeply satisfying to be able to grow these phenomenal fish, and to bring this newly farmed species to market. Kampachi are a beautiful fish; they are nutritious and delicious, they grow quickly and convert efficiently. We have been able to grow them from egg all the way through to harvest size, first in the hatchery, and then the open ocean. We have shown that we can do this with no negative impact on the water quality or the surrounding ocean sea floor. This minimal impact has been validated by extensive monitoring around the Hawaii offshore fish farm site. The Kona boating fishing and diving communities now…