Feb 24, 2010

Should we farm the open seas

We've all seen the science fiction movies involving sharks who are modified and studied in cages in the open seas and usually get out of the pin creating havoc in the plot of the movie.
Hopefully a controlled farming of edible fish in the open seas would prove less portentous but there is always the risk that farmed and wild fish could get together and create concerns.

Starting this June, (Brian O'Hanlon's) latest company, Open Blue Sea Farms, aims to fly 30,000 live baby cobia every month from Miami to Panama City in the cargo hold of a Boeing 757. After being placed in tanks near the famous canal, the fish will travel by boat to their new home, a floating wire mesh globe as tall as a six-story building that will be moored to the Atlantic Ocean floor, 220 feet below.

If O'Hanlon succeeds in selling fish bred in this unique structure, dubbed the AquaPod,
(The AquaPod is a geodesic dome made of triangular nets stitched together, and its vinyl-coated thin wire mesh turned out to be ideal for raising tiny fish), he could revolutionize an industry in crisis. Fish stocks are being rapidly depleted the world over. Consumer demand seems bottomless, and industrial fishing fleets have become too efficient for their own good. Ocean stocks of large fish - such as tuna, cod and halibut - have declined by 90% in the past 50 years, according to a recent study published in the science journal Nature.

More than half the fish eaten today are raised in man-made ponds or controlled pens in shallow coastal areas. Trouble is, coastal breeding isn't great for the environment or the fish. Disease spreads easily. Pollutants such as mercury and PCBs - runoff from industrial areas - build up in the fish. Bays and estuaries used for farming fish get choked with organic material and antibiotics. And there simply isn't enough accessible shallow real estate along the world's coasts to meet demand.

Keeping fish in farms farther out in the ocean is a better option, but the technical challenges are immense. Foul weather, stray ships and fish escaping the cages are just a few of the problems.

Fish farmed in the open ocean tend to be far healthier than fish raised close to shore. Because deepwater currents are stronger and more frequent, they're better suited to washing away poop and pollutants.

O'Hanlon has a compelling pitch: "When we put a fish in the water, it's worth $2," he says. "When we take it out, it's worth $50."

O'Hanlon attempted to grow his off shore farm near Puerto Rico but was stifled by US laws that are stricter than those in Panama where his farm is now. This article does mention the risk of hurricane and escape by fish thru holes in the apparatus but did not mention how these escaped fish co-exist with the wild fish. This must be a concern that should be addressed.

Certainly the growth of the world's population mixed with the dwindling stocks of edible fish throughout the world make this style of fish farming intriguing.

Of course we have always felt a worldwide effort to reduce the human population is a great answer to any pressure over human food supply issues

non blue text from Fortune Small Business May 2009 by Alessandra Bianchi, "Fish Forever"

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