The Wild World of Open Ocean Farmed Fish
Jay Fidell, writing in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, argues against proposed state legislation that would block open-ocean fish farms. (State must save, not end, open-ocean fish farming, Feb. 6, 2011)
One-third of ocean species are in decline. Modern fishing methods are destructive and fuel-inefficient. Bycatch and indiscriminate capture of immature fish are taking an incalculable toll on our oceans. They’re being fished out.
To meet the demand for seafood, the United Nations’ Food Agriculture Organization says aquaculture production needs to double in the next 20 years. The U.S. has no permitting process to allow the industry in federal waters.
Uniquely, Hawaii allows for open-ocean fishing. Ideally, an independent certification process would be available for companies interested in developing open-ocean fish farms. Certification would require posting a bond, showing proof of insurance, and registering the location and operation to alert other fishing and shipping interests. John Locke argued that in mixing labor to remove land from the public sphere, the new landowner should leave as much and as good for the rest of the world.
With 139 million square miles of open ocean, a few hundred or a few thousand open ocean fish farms could feed the world’s people and their cats ten times over. (And for European readers: there are even more square kilometers of open ocean–361 million).
One Hawaii firm with open-ocean farming operations is Blue Ocean Mariculture.
But I guess we could use this distraction to segue from one open-ocean fishing enterprise to another. Ocean Farm Technologies. This LiveScience article discusses a different ocean farming technology in development:
The Velella Project Beta-trial tested the world’s first open-ocean, unanchored fish farm — a drifting “Aquapod” fish pen entrained in eddies in the lee of the Big Island of Hawaii.
The heart of the NSF-funded trial was a net pen, an Ocean Farm Technologies Aquapod®. Approximately 22 feet across, this synthetic lumber geodesic sphere had ballast tanks fore and aft, and an experimental copper alloy mesh intended to reduce biofouling (the accumulation of macroalgae and marine fauna that can restrict water exchange through the mesh, which may compromise fish health).
A key market insight is that no one knows or can know the best technologies for open ocean fish farming. Instead, market competition serves as a discovery process where entrepreneurs and enterprises innovate and adapt technologies to apply thousands of years old farming tools to fishing (fertilization, breeding, weeding). And a key step in this process is developing and transitioning to appropriate property rights institutions.
Again, this innovative open-ocean farming operation is off-shore in Hawaiian state waters because only in that 3-mile zone does the U.S. federal government allow free-enterprise ocean farming. One assumes that lots of effort goes into finding locations where the Aquapod fish pen can be “entrained in eddies” so that it doesn’t drift into U.S. federal waters (where only Hawaii’s two Senators can protect it). Why such research into potentially commercial fishing technologies requires a tax-funded NSF grant is unclear, though probably has to do with Hawaii’s two senators trolling for Hawaii-specific research funds.
Of course not everything is going swimmingly with open ocean fish farms. Pirates can attack to steal fish or hijack fish farms. Plus sea lions and sharks can drop in for dinner. Lawyers are sometimes categorized as Chondrichthyes and they too can endanger open-ocean fish farms. Open-ocean fish farms can compete with other ocean enterprises and with environmental concerns.
In the case of an open-ocean salmon farm off the coast of South Africa, the competition is apparently great white shark watching. The WhiteSharkTrust.org website lists a series of links in 2005 and 2006 attacking the salmon farming operation as endangering nearby shark watching. The post Salmon Farming in Gansbaai: An Ecological Disaster, explains the danger to a “huge touristic attraction”:
A recently established Salmon farming project between Danger Point and Dyer Island is threatening the local environment and endangered wildlife. Gansbaai is known worldwide for its important Great White Shark and Southern Right Whale populations, and has hence become a huge touristic attraction.
Beyond the possible impact to tourism is concern that fish farming chemicals and nets could impact nearby and migrating species:
This farm will have a direct impact on the environment with antibiotics and chemicals used for the welfare of the farmed fish. Many protected and endangered wildlife species (Great White Sharks, Southern Right Whales, Dolphins, African Penguins, Cormorants, Gannets, etc.) will get entangled in the farm nets and probably killed by the fish farm employees.
Critics seem also concerned that salmon is a “luxury fish” whose farm production is somehow not necessary (maybe next they will go after “luxury” cocoa bean farming):
It arose in response to a growing demand for luxury fish that could no longer be satisfied by a decreasing fishery.
Apparently more natural and less luxury-oriented is the alternative open-ocean enterprise in the area: White Shark Cage Diving.