In order to keep pace with growing global demand for seafood, marine aquaculture must expand. The vast majority of mariculture is conducted in protected embayments and estuaries, where wastes and interactions with wild stocks can cause environmental disruptions. To produce marine fish on the scale required by global demand, there is only one real solution: mariculture must move further offshore, into the deeper waters of the open oceans. Here, the tremendous assimilative capability of the sea is in full effect, potentially allowing a responsible mariculture operation to produce delicious, healthy fish without negative impacts on the ocean environment.
With the Velella Project, Kampachi Farms and its partners are taking the lead in the development of technologies to support deep open-ocean mariculture.
Named for a genus of small, drifting pelagic hydrozoan, the Velella Project is a research effort aimed at assessing the biological effects of farming in the open ocean, and developing the techniques and technologies required to do so. Our initial offshore trial was the world's first "beta-test" of an unanchored, free-drifting fish culture system. The Velella Beta array consisted of a 132-cubic-meter brass-netted Aquapod® attached by a combined towing/umbilical line to the 65-foot schooner S/V Machias, which served as the farm tender, dive platform, living space, and operations center. By drifting on the ocean currents in waters two to three miles deep, the Beta was essentially "perpetually fallow", with no direct connection between the seafloor and the farm. No build up of effluent, no impact to wild stocks -- just clean fish growing in clean water.
The biological results of this trial were astounding, with 98% survival, and the cultured fish reaching harvest in roughly half the time anticipated.
Technologically, however, the Beta test was extremely challenging. Current satellite communcations technologies are not adeqauate for the remote communication/control functions required, nor is the available satellite data precise enough to allow accurate prediction of ocean currents on the scale needed to manage a drifting fish farm. Kampachi Farms estimates that the confluence of technologies required to support a commercial drifter farm is probably 10-15 years away.
However, the biological benefits of farming in the open ocean were too good to give up on in the near-term. In addition to proving the feasibility of farming fish in the pelagic environment, the Velella has been used by Kampachi Farms and project partner Lockheed-Martin as a test platform for various supporting technologies. Ranging from automated feeder systems and robotic cage cleaners to long-range WiFi communications, these are the innovations that will be necessary make commercial-scale open ocean farming a reality. The next phase of Velella research is therefore focusing on replicating the outstanding biolgocial results of the drifter trial while using a single point mooring (SPM) system to facilitate the further development of automation and remote control technologies.
In October 2013, Kampachi Farms deployed an SPM mariculture array 6 miles west of Keauhou, HI, in water 6,000 feet deep. The same netpen was attached to a 35-foot barge equipped with wireless communications and IP-enabled automation equipment. The system was stocked with 2,000 Kampachi fingerlings a month later, beginning the trial of the world's deepest-moored mariculture installation. This trial, including a replicate growout evaluation and further development of the remote-automation technology suite, concluded successfully in June 2014. By the end of the trial, the farm was being operated almost entirely by remote, with research teams making a single weekly trip to the farm site to replenish generator fuel and feed stores. Kampachi Farms and its partners are now confident in this technology, and focused on commercial development and deployment.
By continuing to build on this sucessful research, and pioneering the permitting pathway for such operations with U.S. government agencies, Kampachi Farms is leading the way for next-generation mariculture over the blue horizon.
This research is only made possible through the generous and visionary support of the following organizations:
The National Science Foundation
The Illinois Soybean Association
The International Copper Association
Ocean Farm Technologies