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Velella Research Project Raises Prospect of Ultra-Low Impact Sustainable Aquaculture

September 15, 2011 |

As wild fish stocks have been depleted, commercial aquaculture has grown and matured into a worlwide business. Salmon, shellfish, tilapia, catfish and other marine and freshwater species are “farmed” around the world. While this has kept seafood relatively affordable and readily available, it has also caused environmental and health problems.

The use of coastal fish pens to harvest seafood is a traditional part of native Hawaiian culture. Today, a unique and innovative open-ocean aquaculture project, the Velella Research Project, is building on that legacy.

At Kampachi Farms in Kailua-Kona, Velella marine biologists are raising native Kampachi using submersible aquapod pen technology and a unique mariculture system that drifts along with ocean currents.

Here’s how it works: a 22-foot diamter Aquapod pen tethered to a sailing vessel drifts along with ocean currents in 12,000-foot deep ocean from three to 150 miles off Hawaii’s west coast. Engines and fuel are used only to make slight course adjustments to keep the pen in the current’s drift. Marine biologists monitor and feed the fish, and maintain data logs. A GPS system is used to track the vessel’s drift while data is transmitted to the project’s headquarters on-shore.

Fish farming is a low intensity way of providing a high-protein and mineral-rich source of nutrition. As they are cold-blooded, or poikilothermic in scientific jargon, fish only require 2 kilograms or less of feed per kg of live weight. That compares to 8-10 kg of feed per kg of live weight for cattle and 3 kg of feed per kg of live weight for poultry.

Moreover, Velella’s unique mariculture system addresses the environmental and health issues that have plagued mariculture efforts to date. “The Velella Research Project explores the potential of raising healthy fish in their natural environment with virtually no environmental impact on the underlying seafloor, surrounding water quality, or wild fish outside the Aquapod,” said Neil Anthony Sims, Kampachi Farms’ co-CEO in a news release.

“We’re very excited about the results so far,” Sims added. “The fish are healthy, growing well and are where they’re meant to be in the ocean. This technology has the potential to revolutionize fish farming, making it the most impact-free form of food production on the planet.”

Velella has attracted the interest and support of a range of scientific, technology and sustainable agriculture organizations, including NOAA, the National Science Foundation, the Illinois Soybean Association, Lockheed Martin, the International Copper Association and Ocean Farm Technologies.

What about Velella could possibly interest the Illinois Soybean Association you might wonder? Well, the Velella team is using “soy and other sustainable agricultural proteins” as a substitute for fishmeal and fish oil to rear Kampachi. The substitution not only reduces the environmental impact and resource use of the process, it also reduces operating costs.

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