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Harvest of First Farmed Fish in U.S. Waters Off the Big Island Shows Promise of Eco-Friendly Aquaculture

Marine biologists at Kampachi Farms announced today the successful final harvest from the “Velella” Research Project, which raised fish for the first time in U.S. Federal waters. This harvest completes the grow-out cycle of sashimi-grade kampachi fish from an unanchored drifter pen that has been riding eddies in the open ocean, 3 to 75 miles offshore of the Big Island of Hawaii, since last summer.

“This final harvest far surpassed our expectations,” said Neil Anthony Sims, Co-CEO of Kampachi Farms. “The fish thrived in the research net pen far from shore, with phenomenal growth rates and superb fish health… and without any negative impact on water quality, the ocean floor, wild fish or marine mammals.”

The research project raised kampachi (a tropical yellowtail) in a single unanchored, submersible net pen tethered to a manned sailing vessel, in water up to 12,000 feet deep.

“This array proved to be very robust,” said Steve Page, President of Ocean Farm Technologies, makers of the Aquapod® pen. “It withstood even extreme conditions 75 miles offshore, with winds gusting over 40 knots and swells over 20 feet.”

The kampachi were fed a sustainable commercial diet that replaced a significant amount of fishmeal and fish oil with soy and other alternative agricultural proteins. No antibiotics, hormones or pesticides were used throughout the seven-month trial.

Sims reported that the kampachi reached an average of 5.6 lbs in six months, resulting in a first harvest a full three months ahead of schedule. The final food conversion ratio (FCR) was 1.6:1 (1.6 pounds of feed to produce 1 pound of fish). In comparison, average FCR for chicken is 1.9:1, and beef is up to 6.5:1.

Sims said that fish health was superb throughout the trial, with an overall mortality rate of less than 2%, compared with a standard aquaculture mortality rate of 15%. Sample testing showed that the kampachi had a fat content of 33%, making this an extraordinarily healthful fish for human consumption, high in heart-healthy Omega-3s with no discernible mercury or other contaminants.

“It makes perfect sense to raise fish in the ocean, where they belong,” said Sims. “This was a healthy, low-stress environment for the fish, and we think that this allowed them to channel their energy into growing faster.”

[youtube=http://youtu.be/OPs-0LfCEq0]

These were the first farmed fish raised in U.S. federal waters and required a special research permit from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Sims indicated that this project represented a significant step forward in developing the open ocean aquaculture industry in the U.S.

The project garnered support from a wide variety of stakeholders from science, technology, and sustainable agriculture, including NOAA, the National Science Foundation, Lockheed-Martin, the International Copper Association, Ocean Farm Technologies, and the Illinois Soybean Association, which provided some funding from the Illinois soybean checkoff program.

“The success of the Velella research demonstrates that we can grow fish in the open ocean with no negative impact on pristine ocean ecosystems,” said Sims. “We must now apply ourselves to responsibly scale up this industry, to meet the growing global demand for high-quality seafood.”

The next phase of this research will test a single-point mooring 6 miles offshore in water 6,000 feet deep, where the pen can move freely in currents and still be within easy range of shore for supply delivery and crew rotation.

Two Proposed Projects in Hawaii to Promote Outdoor Recreation, Conservation

Just days before the release of a 50-state report outlining some of the country’s most promising ways to reconnect Americans to the natural world, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today highlighted two projects in the state of Hawaii that will be included in the final report — representing what states believe are among the best investments in the nation to support a healthy, active population, conserve wildlife and working lands, and create travel, tourism and outdoor-recreation jobs across the country.

Expanding recreational opportunities at the North Kona-South Kohala Coastline String of Parks on the island of Hawaii and creating a National Blueway on the Wailua River on Kauai are among 100 projects nationwide that will be highlighted in next week’s report — two in every state — as part of President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative to establish a 21st century conservation and recreation agenda and reconnect Americans to the outdoors.

The report is a result of 50 meetings with governors and stakeholders held by Salazar and other senior Interior officials to solicit ideas on how to best implement AGO in their states. These projects were identified for their potential to conserve important lands and build recreation opportunities and economic growth for the surrounding communities as part of close engagement with Gov. Neil Abercrombie and the state of Hawaii, as well as private landowners, local- and tribal-elected officials, community organizations and outdoor-recreation and conservation stakeholders. The full 50-state report will be released in the coming weeks.

“Under the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative, we are listening to the people of Hawaii and communities across America and working with them on locally-based projects that will conserve the beauty and health of our land and water and open up more opportunities for people to enjoy them,” Salazar said. “My staff and I have been asking each governor for the most promising projects to support in their states, and we will do all we can to help move them forward.”

The two projects in Hawaii highlighted by Salazar in the forthcoming report are:

North Kona-South Kohala Coastline / Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail

Thirty-one miles of coastline on the Island of Hawaii make up the North Kona-South Kohala Coastline String of Parks, beginning at Honokohau Small Boat Harbor and ending at Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site. Hawaii wants to connect these seven national, state, and county parks via aquatic and terrestrial trails interspersed with multi-use recreation facilities. The National Park Service’s Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail already provides land links through parks in coastal areas, and it could be linked by sea as well, via recreational-boating opportunities.

In addition to providing recreation access, the North Kona-South Kohala Coastline has a rich cultural history, including ancient artifacts at sacred sites, and great potential for environmental education and interpretation. The National Park Service is currently working with a dozen local communities in the trail corridor to develop community-based trail-management plans. The plans include an economic-development component, which is focused on job creation within the recreation- and visitor-services fields. This project meets AGO outdoor-recreation goals and is supported by state and community entities.

Wailua River National Blueway

The slowly meandering Wailua River on the Island of Kauai is a heavily used recreational destination. Its culturally and historically significant features include the sacred Fern Grotto site, several Hawaiian Heiau, and ancient petroglyphs at the mouth of the river. Commercial tours and paddleboat entrepreneurs crowd the banks.

Managing the Wailua River’s limited area presents the challenge of balancing its heavy recreational use with public safety and impacts on natural and cultural resources. Demand for public recreation access has increased, but an aging marina infrastructure must be addressed.

The state needs help with increasing the access to the river, enhancing existing facilities, and assisting in the conservation of the natural and cultural resources. The long-term goal is to manage river use sustainably to protect river values while increasing recreation use along the blueway.

The report will also include potential actions by Interior and its bureaus to support the projects identified. In Hawaii, for example, the Department could designate the Wailua River as a National Blueway and provide technical, financial, and planning assistance to Hawaii both for increasing public access and restoring the river.

The Department could also provide technical and financial assistance to the Island of Hawaii to enhance the Ala Kahakai Trail and provide new access along the Kona Coast. It could work with the state and local communities in greenway, water trail, and interpretive planning for 31 miles of the Kona Coast. At the Wailua River, it could provide technical, financial, and planning assistance to Hawaii to both for increasing public access and restoring the Wailua River.

The Department of the Interior will work with each of its key bureaus — including the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — to direct available resources and personnel to make these projects a reality.

“The America’s Great Outdoors Initiative turns the conventional wisdom about the federal government’s role in conservation on its head,” Salazar said. “Rather than dictate policies or conservation strategies from Washington, it supports grassroots, locally driven initiatives.”

[youtube=http://youtu.be/RSf-ylyFKzI]

For more information on the President’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative, click here.

To view a map of the projects already announced, click here.

Syd Singer on Climate Change and Conservation

How Climate Change Can Change Conservation:  From “Invasive” to “Invaluable”

Commentary by Syd Singer:

Change is in the air – and in the sea and on the land.  In fact, the entire planet is undergoing a transformation called climate change.

Temperatures will rise, along with humidity and the level of the oceans.  Storms will be more severe, along with droughts and floods.  Animals and plants and microorganisms will have to adapt to survive.  Some species will not make it.  Others will evolve and adapt to the new, changing ecosystem conditions.

However, despite all this change that is acknowledged and feared by governments throughout the world, there has been no change in the way we conserve our natural resources and protect endangered species.

The goal of modern conservation goes beyond protection of forests and wild spaces from development and pollution.  Today’s conservationists fight to protect and preserve native ecosystems and native species against “invasive” species.  The goal is to return “invaded” ecosystems to their condition prior to the introductions of highly competitive “alien” species that have altered the environmental landscape.

Essentially, conservationists and preservationists are resisting environmental change.

In the past, environmental managers introduced species into new environments to increase biodiversity and  resource values of forests and other natural areas.  They valued species for their ability to grow well in their new environments.   Now, however, they call these thriving introduced species “invasive”, and introduce insects, fungi, or other biocontrol pests to slow down their growth, or kill them with poisons, chainsaw, or bulldozers.

The hope is that by eliminating species that “don’t belong” in a certain ecosystem, we can return that ecosystem to a more natural, balanced state where native species and endangered species can thrive without competition from  introductions.

However, climate change is a deal breaker for all conservation strategies.

Climate change means that native species that once thrived in past ecosystems may be threatened with extinction in the near future.  Every species of plant, insect, mammal, bird, fungus, bacteria, and even virus will be impacted by these changes in the conditions of life.  Native ecosystems existed in a different world of the past, with different conditions than we have today and will have tomorrow.

Climate change means you can never go back to the way it was centuries ago.  Today’s and tomorrow’s forests, coastal ecosystems, and oceans may not support yesterday’s species.  And this change is now fast upon us.

Changing conditions will lead to a rebalancing of the entire food chain.  Some dominant species that preferred the old conditions will fall, and new species that thrive on the change will take their place.

In short, this is a time of rapid evolution.  It is a time to look forward, not backward.

As we assess species for their ability to survive and thrive in the new environmental conditions that are coming, we may discover that some species currently considered “invasive” for their ability to grow well are actually “invaluable” for being able to keep natural areas forested into the future, and our oceans vital and healthy.

The goal of environmental management should be to have healthy, vital ecosystems, regardless of the nativity of the species creating them.  We cannot afford to attack introduced species for growing well and outcompeting native species.  This ability to survive and thrive may make them invaluable in the future.

Those conservationists and preservationists who want to maintain native species and native ecosystems can fence, weed and manage areas that can serve as museums of the past biological world.   But such natural preserve areas will require constant commitment of resources in an endless battle against the tide of climate change.

More importantly, we need to plant for the future, not weed for the past.  We need to stop killing the fittest and saving the least fit, or the future forests will consist solely of weak and unhealthy trees.  We need to value trees for growing well, and not just for being native, ensuring that we will still have forests to clean the air, remove carbon dioxide, and provide resources for man and wildlife as the climate changes.

Conservationism itself must change, evolving from an environmental philosophy that fights change into one that embraces and manages it.

The past is done.  Climate change is now giving us a new world unfolding before our eyes.  Either we fight the inevitable changes kicking and screaming for a lost past, or we plan for a better future by surfing the wave of change.

I say let’s surf!