Kona Kampachi untethered – the Velella project

In a bold initiative to take aquaculture into the deep blue of the United States exclusive economic zone (EEZ), Kona Blue Water Farms is forsaking a fixed mooring to the ocean floor and letting the cage go free, so to speak, to travel the eddies on the backside of the Big Island in Hawaii.

Neil Anthony Sims, co-founder of Kona Blue and now co-founder, president and co-CEO of Kampachi Farms, LLC, explained the Velella drifter cage project in a press conference webinar on Monday.

Velella is a scientific name for a group of organisms, including Portuguese men-οf-war, carried by ocean currents. The Velella project will investigate the potential of raising fish, in this case Kona Kampachi® (Seriola rivoliana), in drifter cage arrays floating freely in the ocean current. This is an attempt to expand open ocean mariculture into the far offshore region, away from the restrictions caused by competing user groups, site lease requirements and mooring restrictions.  

Kampachi Farms, a new company formed to handle the technology development side of the business,  is leading the project to answer the question of how to grow more fish in their natural marine environment without affecting pristine ocean ecosystems. Together with other conservation-minded stakeholders from science, technology, and sustainable agriculture, Kampachi Farms is conducting this project to explore new Aquapod® technology (submersible brass mesh net pens) and innovative fish production systems. The project explores the potential of raising fish in their natural environment with virtually no environmental impact on the underlying seafloor, surrounding water quality, or wild fish outside the Aquapod®.

One small Aquapod® (22 feet (6.7 m) in diameter), tethered to a manned sailing vessel, has been deployed in the deep open ocean, in Federal waters, and is drifting in eddies off the west coast of the Big Island, from three to more than 150 miles offshore. The tender vessel’s engines are used minimally to correct course, as the array floats, in constant movement, on powerful ocean currents.

The Aquapod® is stocked with native Kona Kampachi®  – the same fish that are grown at Kona Blue’s Keahole Point offshore farm site. These fish are all hatchery-reared and will be fed the same sustainable diets that are fed to the fish at the Keahole Point site. These diets have replaced significant amounts of fishmeal and fish oil with soy and other sustainable agricultural proteins.

The sailing vessel has marine biologists on board to monitor and feed the fish, and maintain data logs. A GPS system tracks the vessel’s drift and transmits data to land-based research headquarters. A video explains the project in more detail, click here.

“This technology has the potential to revolutionize sustainable fish farming, making it the most environmentally-friendly, impact-free form of food production on the planet,” said Sims. “Positive results from this research offers vast potential for increasing a healthy seafood supply while protecting ocean resources.”

Velella Project research partners include Kampachi Farms, Illinois Soybean Association, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Science Foundation, Lockheed Martin, Ocean Farm Technologies, and International Copper Association.

Neil Anthony Sims co-founded Kona Blue Water Farms in 2001.  Since 2005, Kona Blue’s open ocean mariculture operation has produced up to 500T per annum of Kona Kampachi®, with negligible environmental impacts, from a 90 acre site. Growth and investment are constrained by site limitations. Mariculture expansion in U.S. waters is similarly limited by regulatory constraints for moored structures, and the technological challenges of operating further offshore. The Velella project is developing essential technologies for drifter net-pens that can be entrained in regional ocean eddies. This will allow increased scale and reduced labor requirements, and greater farm profitability.