Open Ocean Aquaculture is broadly defined as “the rearing of marine organisms in exposed areas beyond significant coastal influence.” In these systems, larger pelagic fish like tuna, halibut or cod are raised for consumption.
One of the major roadblocks to more open ocean aquaculture in the United States is the lack of a defined regulatory structure. Open ocean aquaculture often operates beyond state coastal jurisdiction but within the EEZ (an Exclusive Economic Zone) which is federally regulated. That uncertainty in addition to technical challenges have hampered a big commercial surge in the industry.
In Hawaii, there are a few venturing into these uncharted waters hoping to capture a share of the growing aquaculture industry. Hawaii Oceanic Technology Inc. has created the Oceansphere, a system that allows open ocean aquaculture with large harvests and a small footprint. Tethered to the ocean floor, 12 Oceanspheres in a half square mile space of ocean could produce as much as 24,000 tons of seafood according to their website.
After four years of waiting, Oceansphere finally received a U.S. patent for its Oceansphere, Automated Positioning and Submersible Open Ocean Platform for Fish Farming, in October 2011.
Bill Spencer, CEO of the company said, “This is an important value creating milestone for the company. We plan to use Oceanspheres to produce Yellow Fin and Big Eye tuna within the next two years. We will also sell and license Oceanspheres globally. The goal of the company is to demonstrate new fish farming technology that allows pelagic species such as tuna to be grown in deep ocean waters where constant currents and large volumes of clean water assure fish health and rapid mineralization of effluents.” (Oceansphere)
Thought by some to be a “blue revolution” and a solution to the currently rampant overfishing of the oceans, critics of open ocean aquaculture point out that raising a species of fish like tuna requires large inputs of smaller fish as feed and is thus not truly sustainable.