Fish is one of the healthiest proteins that humans can eat. So how can we continue to consume it without wrecking the earth?
Nicole Buckler reports.
The demand for fish across the world is skyrocketing. Fish farming is now a necessity if everyone wants to keep eating sushi. Yet fish farming is an imperfect system. It has the same problems as any type of intensive farming. That is: pollution, contamination, illness, and funding. And it’s still largely experimental, even now.
Fish from the open oceans are no better: according to the UN, 75% of the world’s fisheries are approaching collapse. And most ocean fish are polluted with mercury, which is not great if we feel opposed to developing neurological diseases.
There’s good news, though. There are rapid developments taking place in the world of farmed fish. There has been a surge of funding coming forward specifically to support this industry. New investment firms now exist simply to provide capital for the fish farms of the future. For example, New York-based Aquacopia is the first aquaculture venture capital firm. It is uniquely investing in early-stage entrepreneurial projects in aquaculture. And they don’t just throw money at anyone with a fish farming permit. They are backing companies who tread lightly on the oceans, and who make fish without contaminants and diseases. And cleaner oceans mean cleaner food.
It’s a good thing too that investment money is backing a cleaner industry. Especially in the case of Open Blue Sea Farms, a practitioner of sustainable open ocean aquaculture. They have just received funding to embark on the formation of the world’s largest open ocean aquaculture operation. And by “largest” this means massive.
Open Blue Sea Farms are busy pioneering environmentally sustainable, free-range, open ocean aquaculture that is profitable and scalable. The method results from a decade of research pilot projects in Puerto Rico with leading academics. The aim is to produce sashimi-quality fish that is high in protein, rich in omega-3s and mercury free. The company has found their answer in a fish called cobia, which swim in submerged containment areas. Cobia is a firm, mild whitefish that looks a bit like a shark. They grow fast and are highly nutritious. These little chaps are solitary swimmers, which is why they aren’t ideal for intensive farming. They’d be fighting with each other in minutes if kept in a more confined space. But in a large aquaculture set-up, they are just the ticket.
Cobia is growing in popularity, especially since chefs Jamie Oliver and Mario Batali each cooked several dishes made with cobia in the ‘Battle Cobia’ episode of Iron Chef America. Cobia so far have been cultivated in the open ocean, penned in by huge nets. But technology is moving so fast in this area, even nets are passé. Now all the rage is ocean domes, which can reach heights of up to 15 stories or more, and can be moved easily around the oceans. So Open Blue’s free-range aquaculture have now moved from large nets to the domes. They keep their cobia in its natural environment, beneath the Caribbean off the coast of Panama.
Of the 43,000 stocked cobia, 10,000 are destined for the gourmet seafood market between December and April. “Our mission is healthy, great tasting seafood and protecting the oceans,” says Open Blue CEO Brian O’Hanlon. “Open Blue’s free-range fish farming combines the efficiencies of submerged nets with high growth, and uses native fish species to decrease disease risk.” Which can only be a good thing for us and for our plates. It is a very interesting new way to produce food, but who on earth makes these strange undersea balls? Read on.
New net technology is allowing fish farmers to produce marine life in remarkable ways. The patented Aquapod, a unique containment system for marine aquaculture, is a good example of this. It is suited for rough open ocean conditions and a diversity of species. The Aquapod is constructed of individual triangle net panels stuck together in a spheroid shape. Most Aquapod net panels are made of reinforced high density plastic with 80% recycled content. They are then covered with coated galvanized steel wire mesh netting to stop the fish escaping or predators coming in and stealing our lunch. Panels can be modified for access, feeding, fish transfer, grading, and harvesting.
These fishy pods can be put under the water if there is a big nasty storm on the way. And they can be lifted out at harvest time. They can also be kept at the bottom of the ocean to avoid collisions.
The pods are also built to be buoyant, so to tow them around doesn’t take up much fuel. They can also spin around in the water, meaning that cleaning them is very simple. They are just lifted to the surface and spun about, which cuts down on paying divers to clean the pens in deep water.
Another advantage of using aquapods is that more water passes through them than other net pens. This means that fish have cleaner, oxygenated water. In addition to water exchange rate, another useful criterion for fish health is the distance from the fish to the source of clean water. The spherical shape of the Aquapod ensures that the greatest number of fish have access to fresh water.
The design of the pods also makes them very resistant to predators like sharks, sea lions and seals. Other net pens suffer considerable predation attempts, sharks being the peskiest species. The Aquapod net pens are 100% effective at tiger shark prevention. There are no corners, no loose netting, and no pockets for sea lions and seal to exploit, so it looks like some delicious fish will be meeting our plate, and soon. Yum!