Off the coast of Hawaii some strange aquaculture is going on — a firm is growing fish in free-floating, open-ocean metal pods. The idea is fish raised in clean, clear currents are not only better to eat, but the method is also better for our environment. It's being called "mariculture" because the fish are sustainably raised in the open sea.
Marine biologists working at Kampachi Farms have been working on the new style of fish farming. Native Kampachi fish are placed in an odd-looking, 22-foot metal structure called an "Aquapod." The pod is tethered to a staysail sailing schooner and dragged in open ocean currents sometimes up to 150 miles offshore and 12,000 feet deep. Engines are only used when needing to correct course while marine biologists on board track their movements, monitor the project and care for the fish.
In addition to whatever the fish might get that comes through their giant sieve of a home, they are also fed soy and sustainable agricultural proteins. When the fish get too big, some of the floating herd gets culled to reduce density, and the rest are left to float on. The pod never stops moving, touches the bottom or affects the ocean environment around it.
That's a big change from normal fishing — either net or line caught via commercial vessels in the deep sea or farmed in estuaries or protected waters. We're all familiar with overfishing, but many of us may not have realized fish farming isn't exactly great for the fish or the environment. Often farmed fish have little movement ability, can be fed with great amounts of fishmeal and preventative antibiotics that, quite literally, muddy the waters and aren't good for anyone.
So far the Aquapod experiment looks to be a success, with the fish harvested in early 2012 deemed healthy. The next step is to work with partners to help expand the project, with ideas for improvement ranging from self-feeders and remote control operations.
The project has a lot of supporters — everyone from NOAA to Lockheed Martin, soybean farmers and copper associations. Why the big companies showing such interest? Fishing is big business with the U.S. importing the majority of what we eat. Reducing that number via mariculture — with healthy, sustainable methods — could be the new cash cow.