What’s the catch?

Fish farming is one solution to overfishing of oceans, but it has its drawbacks. How can they be overcome?

Anyone with an interest in food will know that there are no longer plenty more fish in the sea. Over-fishing has depleted oceans that once teemed with life to the point that certain species of fish are endangered and once cheap and plentiful fish such as cod are now scarce and relatively expensive. To give some idea of the scale of the problem, according to a 2008 UN report, the world's fishing fleets are losing US$50 billion each year through depleted stocks and poor fisheries management. The report, produced jointly by the World Bank and the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), asserts that half the world's fishing fleet could be scrapped with no change in catch. Of course, one consequence of this has been that people have taken to eating species not previously considered to be a culinary dead end. However, this is not always satisfactory and people will still want to eat some species rather than others. This problem has, of course, given rise to a burgeoning market for fish farming. By this method, it is possible to raise popularly-eaten species such as Sea Bass, Salmon and Trout in ponds, pools or pens without facing the vagaries of the sea, the depredations of predators (including other fishermen). The problem is that these farms have a negative impact on their environment and, if poorly sited, can compromise water quality and compete for space with other marine concerns such as shipping, recreation, etc. Equally, many feel that the fish raised in these pens are of inferior taste and quality than their wild counterparts due to their diet and relative lack of exercise. The Challenge What is needed, then, is a means of farming fish while still giving them access to the open sea, with all the nutritional and environmental benefits that offers. Of course, the obvious solution is simply to take a large floating cage out to see – like a gigantic lobster pot. However, the difficulty would be in moving, maintaining and monitoring such a thing to ensure everything is working to plan and that the fish are healthy. As ever, we have a solution in mind that is high-tech and has received a number of plaudits. It is automated, keeps labour costs low and improves safety, leading many to believe it could revolutionise fish farming. The solution will, as ever, appear in the next issue. But none of that is to say that you can't do better. We look forward to finding out. -Solution- Solution to the June 2014 Coffee Time Challenge The solution to last month's Coffee Time Challenge of how to farm fish ethically and sustainably comes from Lockheed Martin, which has teamed up with Kampachi Farms of Hawaii and Illinois Soybean Association to develop an innovative new system that could produce a sea change in fish farming. The new system, recognised by TIME Magazine as one of the Top 25 Inventions of 2012, is a mobile fish pen, or drifting fish cage, which is hooked to a barge that drifts with the ocean eddies. The system circles in the current much like a satellite is held by gravity in a controlled orbit around the Earth. The mobile system, which is constantly moving over the ocean's surface, in waters over 12,000 ft deep, solves the potential problems of impacts on water quality or impacts on the seafloor, and appears to improve fish health and growth. As the cage drifts, the highly automated system controls feeding from the barge and cleaning by a remote operating vehicle inside the cage. The system operates by integrating satellite communications, remote sensing data feeds, robotics, motor controls, and Lockheed Martin's command and control and situational awareness software. "This truly revolutionary approach to aquaculture is a remarkable example of the breadth of missions and projects to which Lockheed Martin technology can be applied," said Gerry Fasano, president of Lockheed Martin Information Systems and Global Solutions-Defense. "We took technologies and software developed for defence-related applications and used them to create a sustainable, environmentally sound method of farming, which will undoubtedly have a lasting impact on our oceans and wildlife." The beta-trial of the mobile fish pen used fingerlings raised from wild broodstock in land-based hatcheries, so there was no genetic difference between farmed and wild stocks. The beta-trial also used of a highly efficient soy-based feed, allowing fish to reach harvest size faster (five months) with improved feed conversion for the high-value, sashimi-grade fish species under culture (Kampachi). In addition, automation keeps labor costs low and improves safety. "The drifter cage allows us to marry revolutionary technologies to grow fish with literally no footprint on the oceans," said Neil Anthony Sims, co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Kampachi Farms, LLC. "We're combining this technology with more responsible feeds, more sustainable proteins and oils, to grow this industry, to allow us to feed 9 billion people." Using the mobile cage method, aquafarms could produce large volumes of high quality seafood with reduced costs, potentially reducing the $10 billion U.S. annual seafood trade deficit. Around the world, the new technology could enable countries without ample farmland or fresh water to farm fish more effectively, thereby allowing countries to open a new industry and achieve food security, along with the benefits of job creation.