By Andrew Gomes
A Hawaii investment firm focused on generating financial as well as social returns is putting some of its money into the local open-ocean fish farming industry.
Ulupono Initiative is lending Blue Ocean Mariculture LLC $3 million to help finance expansion of the fish farm that raises kahala, or almaco jack branded as Hawaiian Kampachi, in cages floating off Hawaii island’s Kona Coast.
Blue Ocean laid out its expansion goal in an environmental assessment report in 2014. The plan calls for increasing the number and size of underwater cages so the company can more than double fish production to 2.2 million pounds a year from about 900,000 pounds.
The farm, which operates in 90 acres of state waters leased from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources offshore of Kona International Airport, received DLNR approval to deploy up to eight cages instead of five. Each cage’s maximum size could be 8,000 cubic meters instead of a prior maximum of 7,000 cubic meters.
“The expansion plan is on track, thanks in part to the financial support of Ulupono Initiative,” Todd Madsen, Blue Ocean president, said in an email.
Madsen said the first new pen was installed earlier this year and is filled with 130,000 young fish. Upgrades were also made to the company’s hatchery facility on land at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii, he said.
”We are happy with our progress, and we appreciate Ulupono’s financial support as we continue to sustainably and responsibly produce marine finfish in Hawaii and for Hawaii consumers,” he said.
Murray Clay, managing partner of Ulupono, said in an email that the firm supports Blue Ocean’s mission to responsibly farm local seafood.
“Blue Ocean Mariculture is aligned with our mission to increase food security and self-sufficiency in Hawaii,” he said. “Seafood is a huge part of Hawaii’s diet, but like most of our food, the majority of seafood is imported.”
Clay cited a 2013 University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization report that said only about half of all seafood consumed in the state is from the state, including commercial and recreational catches.
“Hawaii sits in the middle of the largest ocean on earth,” the report said. “So the majority of the seafood consumed on these islands must then come from local waters, right? The answer might surprise you.”
Clay said fish farming can help alter the imbalance between imported and locally sourced seafood.
“Aquaculture can positively impact our fisheries system by creating an exciting, viable solution to sustain a local source of seafood,” he said.