Selective Shellfish Breeding in a Digital World

Selective Breeding

The aquaculture industry has been slow to adopt quantitative genetics and selective breeding as compared with the plant and farm animal industries.  A breeding program for bivalve shellfish would be particularly promising for genetic gains based upon their relatively high fecundity (prolific spawning) and heritability’s (ability to pass on economically important traits).  These factors combined with short generation intervals and recent advances in shellfish genome sequencing could revolutionize a sustainable and nutritious food source for feeding the future.

Large Marine Ecosystems of the World

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There are sixty-four Sea Large Marine Ecosystems (LMEs) on planet Earth and three of the most productive are the California Current, Guinea Current and Arabian Sea.  All three are unique upwelling LME’s where KZO Sea Farms is the only company developing offshore sustainable shellfish mariculture projects.  Seventy percent of the Earth is ocean and ninety percent of the ocean is “desert’ because there are no nutrients available for marine life food chain.  The nutrients are there but too deep to reach without natural upwelling, which occupy only .1 percent of the ocean surface but produce nearly half of the world’s ocean fish.  The phenomenon of upwelling elevates deep offshore nutrients to the surface for the propagation of phytoplankton, which is the foundation of the bountiful marine food web, and the currency for the health of our oceans.  

Phytoplankton are feed-stock for lower-trophic shellfish which could be the only sustainable ecological and economical solution for feeding a higher-trophic and malnourished future global population of 9 billion.  Phytoplankton thrives under near shore summer conditions as single-celled algae supporting the base of the marine food chain. The vast majority of marine life in coastal waters could not exist without these naturally occurring microscopic plants. Nutrient rich waters, combined with long sunlight days, cause the phytoplankton to bloom.  The resulting abundance of phytoplankton becomes the natural food for filter feeding bivalve shellfish.  Most marine animals and plants live in the top 120 feet of the water column.   When they die, their remains sink to the bottom.  In shallow coastal waters the nutrients can be recycled from these highly productive areas.  But if the water is deeper than about 120-300 feet the remains sink below the euphotic zone, which is the uppermost layer of a body of water with sufficient light to enable photosynthesis.  This enriches the deep ocean water but the nutrients are unavailable for the propagation of surface dwelling phytoplankton.  Deep ocean nutrients can re-enter the food chain only in locations where the unique phenomenon of upwelling forces them up to the surface.   This does not generally happen in warm and temperate regions of the oceans due to the density difference between the warm surface water and the cold deep ocean water.   As a result most tropical and temperate oceans have low productivity.  However, in cold waters at high latitudes and in regions where currents bring cold polar water from the high latitudes, the ocean surface temperature drops to about 40 degrees Fahrenheit and its density is similar to that at the bottom.  The nutrient-rich deep water is then easily brought to the surface by turbulent mixing.  This upwelling phenomenon is restricted mainly to the west coasts of continents, and is responsible for the high productivity of near shore waters producing the most productive ocean fishing grounds in the world.  

The transport of nutrients to the euphotic zones explains why such a large percentage of global ocean natural production occurs in upwelling regions.The California Current LME, carrying water cooled by its passage through the northern latitudes, flows southward along the shore from the Washington-Oregon border to Southern California.  It has a surface area of about 2.2 million square kilometers.  It is one of the world’s five LMEs that undergoes seasonal upwelling of cold nutrient rich water that generate localized areas of high primary productivity supporting fisheries for sardines, anchovy and other pelagic fish species.  Beginning in March, prevailing westerly winds, combined with the effects of the earth's rotation, drive surface waters offshore.  These waters are replaced by deep, cold water that flows up over the continental shelf to the surface, carrying with it dissolved nutrients from the decay of organic material that had sunk to the ocean floor.

The Gulf of Guinea is a Class I, highly productive LME characterized by seasonal upwelling off the coasts from July to September weakening from January to March. Seasonal upwelling drives the marine biological productivity of this LME, which includes some of the most abundant coastal and offshore fisheries in the world. Sixteen countries border this LME, which covers an area of about 2 million square kilometers on the largest continental shelf in West Africa.  The cold nutrient-rich water of this expansive upwelling system extends up to 200 kilometers offshore from the coast.  The Arabian Sea LME covers an area of about 3.9 million square kilometers and is also a Class I highly productive ecosystem. It is characterized by seasonal upwelling off the coasts with intense upwelling from July to September weakening from about January to March.  The most stable, seasonal persistent front develops in the Gulf of Aden.  Seasonal upwelling drives the biological productivity of this LME, which like the Gulf of Guinea includes some of the most productive coastal and offshore waters in the world. Upwelling fronts are similar to the seasonal evolution of the major upwelling zones off Northwest Africa and California Current System. 

First Shellfish Ranch is Federal Waters-Offshore California

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The Southern California Bight - the eastward curvature of ocean region between Santa Barbara and Mexican border - has a coastal population of 17 million people.  It is rich with untapped marine resources and increasingly under pressing policies from the encroachment of urbanization and commercial exploitation.  The challenge is to protect the ecosystem and marine life of this massive 100,000 square mile bight while also accommodating societal and economic opportunities that would benefit its citizens.  Californians should encourage policies producing projects and opportunities that would not compromise the health of this potentially productive resource.  This would showcase best practices for commercialization that would be in the public interest.  It would also provide science-based data for allocating this massive ocean space for important human economic and recreational needs that would not conflict with marine life and ocean ecology.  KZO Sea Farms is developing a 100-acre shellfish farm approximately nine miles offshore Long Beach in the 130,000-acre San Pedro Basin.  It is the first open ocean shellfish farm permitted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which has sole jurisdiction in federal waters.  This pilot farm will consist of 45 ropes about 600 feet in length anchored in depths of about 125 feet and spaced about 100 feet apart.  The shellfish cultivation gear, suspended from the ropes, will be submerged 30 feet under the surface to prevent intrusion with commercial and recreational uses. After rigorously monitoring and documenting the environmental, economic and sociological impacts, the farm will be expanded based upon best practices supported by science-based data. 

In contrast to shellfish typically harvested from intertidal bays and estuaries, this project presents a new paradigm for cultivation in pristine waters of the open ocean.  Offshore shellfish farms are showing higher growth rates, better meat yields, and heavier production compared with inshore farms.  This is attributed to lower stress from unpolluted water and the abundance of phytoplankton providing the shellfish with food for rapid growth.  Oysters and mussels are filter-feeding bivalves that consume nutrients from the water column.  The nearby offshore oil platforms legs are covered with mussels thriving on these single-celled algae that are the basis of the marine food chain.  Beginning in March, prevailing westerly winds, combined with the effects of the earth's rotation, drive surface waters offshore along the Southern California Bight.  These waters are replaced by deep, cold water flowing upwards over the continental shelf to the surface, carrying dissolved nutrients from the decay of organic material that had sunk to the ocean floor.  This seasonal phenomenon of upwelling the cold nutrient rich water produces phytoplankton, the feedstock of shellfish supporting the food web of fisheries including sardines, anchovy and other pelagic fish species. 

California is the world’s fifth largest supplier of food commodities.  It has the potential to emulate this land-based agriculture success with offshore shellfish aquaculture for increasing economic and food security.  With high unemployment, California could use the jobs. NOAA Fisheries data show more than one million jobs were created from the seafood industry in the United States during 2009.  Studies show that in a small percentage of state and federal waters within the Southern California Bight could generate a multibillion-dollar offshore aquaculture industry.  Consider: California could emulate New Zealand, which has the goal to triple the value of aquaculture production to $1 billion by 2025, and in a sustainable way that preserves its pristine environment.  The National Aquaculture Act of 1980, which applies to all federal agencies, states that it is “in the national interest, and it is the national policy, to encourage the development of aquaculture in the United States”.  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently proclaimed: “When properly sited, operated, and maintained, commercial shellfish aquaculture activities generally result in minimal adverse effects on the aquatic environment and in many cases provide environmental benefits by improving water quality and wildlife habitat, and providing nutrient cycling functions”.  Quoting Dr. Michael Rubino, Manager of NOAA’s Aquaculture Program: “From the point of view of jobs and economic opportunity, the place we can expand right now is on the shellfish side.  Shellfish farming has far less-intensive impacts on ecosystems in comparison to finfish, especially the controversial, carnivorous species like salmon that require significant wild fish resources for their feed.  Filter-feeding bivalve shellfish like mussels, clams and oysters need no feed and typically have net ecological benefits in terms of improving water quality.” 

The cultivation of shellfish currently makes up about two-thirds of United States marine aquaculture production. In 2010, National Marine Fisheries Service data show that commercial landings at approximately 28 million pounds (meat weight) with imports at about 34.6 million pounds for a total of 62.7 million pounds.  The USDA Economic Research Service data for 2011 show 26.8 million pounds of imported fresh oysters and 63.8 million pounds of imported fresh mussels.  About 85 percent of our nation's seafood comes from overseas - mostly from China – producing a seafood deficit amounting to a staggering $10 billion. China produces roughly two-thirds of the world’s seafood and is projected to soon shift from a net seafood exporter to a net seafood importer with the emergence of its middle-class. This shift promises to present significant supply and pricing challenges for the seafood industry.  The recent National Academy of Sciences report Ecosystem Concepts for Sustainable Bivalve Mariculture “suggests that the United States could triple domestic production of shellfish to more than 300,000 metric tons per year (live weight) by 2025; in volume terms this could displace all current shellfish imports”.  Americans have two choices: continue to import thereby increasing the deficit; or, “grow our own” which would create jobs by producing a local supply of healthy shellfish.  

Shellfish are also one of the world’s most perfect foods that are extremely high in proteins, calcium and iron, and an excellent source of selenium and Vitamin 12.  They are also a good source of zinc and folic acid, while low in fat and calories and contain huge amounts of omega-3s.  Offshore shellfish cultivation in federal waters of the Southern California Bight would be in the public interest by increasing jobs and reducing America’s huge seafood trade deficit with no negative environmental impact.  By showcasing science-based solutions for a sustainable shellfish industry, California would assume a leadership role in the fastest growing global food industry.

The Price of seafood will soar

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The seafood industry is confronted with a major challenge.  Based on numerous scientific studies, most of the world’s major fisheries are over-exploited and current wild catch levels are projected to be at their maximum sustainable yields.  Given that capture fisheries are maxed-out, growth in demand will need to be satisfied by marine aquaculture where harvests would need to increase by more than 75 percent by 2025 – and that assumes per capita consumption stays flat.  Without rapid implementation of sustainable fisheries management practices, supply cannot meet growth in demand and the reduction in seafood supply is inevitable as we deplete one of the world’s most valuable food resources.  Unfortunately, fisheries management is immensely complex involving disputed allocation rights over a global resource, issues of national sovereignty, private and public sector interests, economic development, employment and basic food security.  This is further complicated by scientific uncertainties over the amount and distribution of edible marine life in the oceans.  FAO conservatively estimates that the global fishing fleet is approximately 30 percent larger than it needs to be to fully harvest the available resources.  Other studies estimate global overcapacity at 150 percent, meaning there is 2.5 times the catching power needed.  This promises a vicious capitalistic cycle whereby rising prices for fish will continue to create financial incentives for further investment in industrial-scale fishing. 

As a more informed public understands the impact of plundering of our oceans sustainable seafood certifications and eco-labeling will become de rigueur for “green” consumers.  The proliferation of seafood tracing applications for mobile devices and social networks will provide the mechanism for mass-scaling the adoption, compliance and enforcement of sustainable seafood.  Walmart reached its goal of only selling 100 percent sustainable seafood in 2011 and Target and Kroger both plan to achieve that goal by 2015.  Costco, Shaw, and other big box chain grocery stores are now selling certified seafood.  McDonald’s restaurants in Europe and Russia only sell 100 percent certified sustainable seafood.  Since global capture fisheries are at their maximum sustainable yield and while marine aquaculture continues its impressive growth rate, there will be a gap between supply and demand.  Over the longer-term sustainability certifications may result in greater supply, but compliance over the near-term, will further drive up prices. 

Economics 101: Seafood supply will diminish and prices will soar from demand. 

 

Oyster Gardening

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Oyster Gardening 

 

in California

Incredibly, an adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day, allowing sunlight to penetrate so that foundations of the food chain can thrive; once water clarity increases, bottom vegetation, such as eelgrass, flourish. 

The general public is unaware that beds of bivalve shellfish provide ecosystem services by naturally filtering nutrients from the water.  Bivalve shellfish are filter feeders that remove suspended solids from surrounding waters, thereby increasing water clarity, enabling seagrass growth and reducing the likelihood of harmful algae blooms.  Bivalve shellfish were once the global ecosystem engineers and enablers of prosperous habitats for other species.

According to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, enormous oyster beds “could once filter a volume of water equal to that of the entire Chesapeake Bay (about 19 trillion gallons) in a week.  Today, it would take the remaining Bay oysters more than a year. 

“Native Olympia oysters were once ecologically and economically dominant along coastal Southern California. “Olys” were considered commercially important as a delectable food source until a combination of over-harvesting, dredging, pollution, and wetlands destruction in the 1930s depleted natural populations. 

Recent Southern California oyster restoration initiatives in Newport and Alamitos Bays were designed for “habitat not harvest”.  Nor do these projects measure the impact of increased oyster populations for mitigating eutrophication, which is the over-enrichment of an ecosystem with chemical nutrients, typically nitrogen, phosphorus, or both.  Quantifying the ecosystem services of oysters could create economic incentives for expanding and accelerating restoration programs.  Studies conducted on the East Coast reveal that the cost of removing nitrogen with wastewater plans is about $28 per pound.  For every 2,000 oysters harvested, about a pound of nitrogen is removed which is dwarfed by the nitrogen removal by bivalve bacterial denitrification. 

Could native Olympia oysters once again become a nutritional food source while also improving the water quality in Southern California? Successful programs in Oregon, Washington, and the Chesapeake Bay have set positive precedents.  

Oyster gardening, pioneered on the Chesapeake Bay, is a community-based program for growing baby oysters in bags under docks, piers, and other structures until the “spat,” reaches a size making them safe from predators.  The spat is then released onto nearby oyster beds where their density promotes propagation.  Citizen scientists get hands-on harvesting experience while learning the economic and ecological benefits of the marine habitat.  

KZO Education is promoting oyster gardening legislation for the State of California and is developing plans for a local hatchery to produce the requisite native shellfish seed.  Oyster gardening may be a low cost option for cleansing estuaries and coastal embayments but could they be ever be eaten?  Since the oysters will be suspended in cages from the bottom there is no danger from heavy metals so that leaves bacteria and toxins, which can be detected during episodic contamination seasons and not harvested. 

Quoting Jonathan Swift: "Twas a brave man indeed that 'et the first oyster".  If there are no future blogs, I was the brave man that et that oyster from Alamitos Bay.

Feeding the future with Shellfish

Low Trophic

There are sixty-four Sea Large Marine Ecosystems (LMEs) on planet Earth and three of the most productive are the California Current, Guinea Current, and the Arabian Sea.  All three are unique upwelling LME’s where KZO Sea Farms is the only company developing offshore sustainable shellfish mariculture projects.  

Seventy percent of the Earth is ocean and ninety percent of the ocean is “desert’ because there are no nutrients available for marine life food chain.  The nutrients are there but too deep to reach without natural upwelling, which occupies only .1 percent of the ocean surface but produce nearly half of the world’s ocean fish.  

The phenomenon of upwelling elevates deep offshore nutrients to the surface for the propagation of phytoplankton, which is the foundation of the bountiful marine food web, and the currency for the health of our oceans.  Phytoplankton are feed-stock for lower-trophic shellfish which could be the only sustainable ecological and economical solution for feeding a higher-trophic and malnourished future global population of 9 billion. 

Phytoplankton thrives under near shore summer conditions as single-celled algae supporting the base of the marine food chain.  The vast majority of marine life in coastal waters could not exist without these naturally occurring microscopic plants.  Nutrient rich waters, combined with long sunlight days, cause the phytoplankton to bloom.  The resulting abundance of phytoplankton becomes the natural food for filter feeding bivalve shellfish.  

Most marine animals and plants live in the top 120 feet of the water column.  When they die, their remains sink to the bottom.  In shallow coastal waters, the nutrients can be recycled from these highly productive areas.  But if the water is deeper than about 120-300 feet the remains sink below the euphotic zone, which is the uppermost layer of a body of water with sufficient light to enable photosynthesis.  This enriches the deep ocean water but the nutrients are unavailable for the propagation of surface dwelling phytoplankton.  Deep ocean nutrients can re-enter the food chain only in locations where the unique phenomenon of upwelling forces them up to the surface.  

This does not generally happen in warm and temperate regions of the oceans due to the density difference between the warm surface water and the cold deep ocean water.  As a result, most tropical and temperate oceans have low productivity.  However, in cold waters at high latitudes and in regions where currents bring cold polar water from the high latitudes, the ocean surface temperature drops to about 40 degrees Fahrenheit and its density is similar to that at the bottom.  The nutrient-rich deep water is then easily brought to the surface by turbulent mixing.   This upwelling phenomenon is restricted mainly to the west coasts of continents and is responsible for the high productivity of near shore waters producing the most productive ocean fishing grounds in the world.  The transport of nutrients to the euphotic zones explains why such a large percentage of global ocean natural production occurs in upwelling regions.  

The California Current LME, carrying water cooled by its passage through the northern latitudes, flows southward along the shore from the Washington-Oregon border to Southern California.  It has a surface area of about 2.2 million square kilometers.  It is one of the world’s five LMEs that undergoes seasonal upwelling of cold nutrient rich water that generates localized areas of high primary productivity supporting fisheries for sardines, anchovy, and other pelagic fish species. Beginning in March, prevailing westerly winds, combined with the effects of the earth's rotation, drive surface waters offshore.  These waters are replaced by deep, cold water that flows up over the continental shelf to the surface, carrying with it dissolved nutrients from the decay of organic material that had sunk to the ocean floor.  

The Gulf of Guinea is a Class I, highly productive LME characterized by seasonal upwelling off the coasts from July to September weakening from January to March. Seasonal upwelling drives the marine biological productivity of this LME, which includes some of the most abundant coastal and offshore fisheries in the world.  Sixteen countries border this LME, which covers an area of about 2 million square kilometers on the largest continental shelf in West Africa.  The cold nutrient-rich water of this expansive upwelling system extends up to 200 kilometers offshore from the coast.  

The Arabian Sea LME covers an area of about 3.9 million square kilometers and is also a Class I highly productive ecosystem.  It is characterized by seasonal upwelling off the coasts with intense upwelling from July to September weakening from about January to March.  The most stable, seasonal persistent front develops in the Gulf of Aden.  Seasonal upwelling drives the biological productivity of this LME, which like the Gulf of Guinea includes some of the most productive coastal and offshore waters in the world.  Upwelling fronts are similar to the seasonal evolution of the major upwelling zones off Northwest Africa and California Current System.

Mussels for Muscles

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Mussels are one of the world’s most perfect foods.  They are extremely high in proteins, calcium and iron, an excellent source of selenium and Vitamin 12, and a good source of zinc and folic acid, while low in fat and calories.  Mussels are also the best shellfish for your heart, containing the highest amount of omega-3s - the naturally occurring fatty acid that lowers blood pressure.  According to the USDA, a 3.5-ounce portion of mussel contains 95 calories, 14.4 grams of protein and 2.2 grams of fat.  By contrast, a T-bone steak contains 395 calories, 14.7 grams of protein, and 37.1 grams of fat.  Could mussels also become a staple for building muscles?America needs a campaign for promoting the benefits of cultured mussels that are by far the best value for the seafood dollar.  These bivalve shellfish produce affordable protein and are a renewable resource.  A campaign for fresh mussels providing a price point matching the economic recession and should be promoted in the context of health and sustainability.  This, coupled with locally produced from pristine offshore waters could cause market growth for mussels reaching consumption levels in other parts of the world.  Per-capita consumption is significantly lower in America than in Europe.  Mussels were one of the first seafood success stories and remain one of the most reliable cultured shellfish farmed on both coasts of the United States as well as in China and Europe.  Most farmers here use the “rope” or “raft” culture in which small mussels are seeded in mesh tubes, suspended from heavy lines in coastal bays.  The mussels require little attention as they feed on drifting plankton, and harvesting is a simple matter of pulling up the lines and stripping off the mussels.  

Global mussel production is about 2 million metric tons worth over $1 billion dollars and U. S. consumption is skyrocketing.   Americans import about 42 million pounds or about 10 times what we produce.  2010 was a milestone for the mussel industry in Canada surpassing New Zealand for the first time in exports to the U.S. worth $27.4 million, up from $26.7 million in 2009.  Canada supplies 99 percent of fresh-farmed mussels to the U.S. market with the majority imported 4,000 miles away via expensive airfreight from Prince Edward Island, which also has unfavorable exchange rates making locally farmed shellfish more competitive.  Wild mussels grow slower than farmed and can take seven to twelve years to reach 2 ½ inches and tend to be inconsistent sizes with imperfect shells.  Harvesting from intertidal beds of older, wild mussels, has led to quality problems.  Wild mussels grow on the bottom, where they are vulnerable to crabs, starfish, and other predators.  As a natural defense mechanism they grow a tougher and thicker shell.  Farmed mussels are suspended above the ocean bottom and out of reach from predators so they spend more time and energy growing body mass instead of growing shell.  The result is a mussel with a lighter shell and plumper, tenderer meat for better food value and higher meat to shell ratio than the wild variety.  In contrast to shellfish harvested from intertidal congested and polluted bays and estuaries, open ocean farming harvests shellfish from anchored longlines in pristine offshore waters.  The abundance of plankton and algae from upwelling provide shellfish food for rapid growth and the cool water currents deter disease.   The mussel most widely cultured in eastern North America is the blue mussel named for its solidly blue-black shell, or occasional brown shell.  This species occurs naturally on both sides of the Atlantic.  The Mediterranean mussel has been introduced by humans to coastal marine environments throughout the world and is not considered a new invasive species.  They are larger, faster growing and has greater meat content than the Blue mussel (50% vs. 35%) and they are more tolerant to heat and salinity.  Among other locations, the Mediterranean mussel favors offshore oil platforms, where it can produce a substantial crop.  

Back in the late 1980s, Ecomar Marine Consulting harvested up to 500,000 pounds of mussels a year from 12 platforms in Southern California owned by five oil companies.  The Mediterranean mussel is also easy to farm, and it offers a distinct advantage to Northwestern mussel growers.  Oddly enough, given the names, the Baltic mussels are susceptible to dying on a large scale in winter; however, Mediterranean mussels survive the winter temperatures just fine.  But an even bigger advantage for the Mediterranean has to do with its spawning cycle, which influences eating quality.  Like other bivalves, mussels are in their best eating condition during the six months or so preceding their spawning season, and at their poorest, during and just after, spawning.  Spawning time varies by species and location; with the Eastern mussels and the Baltic type on the West Coast spawning in early summer, and offering their best quality from late fall through spring.  Mediterranean mussels, on the other hand, spawn in winter, and are in their prime in the summer, just when the others are pulled off the market.  By the time July rolls around, they are at their peak, mild and sweet.  Thin shell farmed mussels can contain as much as 60 percent edible yield.  The orange mussels are female and the white mussels are male.   There is little difference in taste between the two, and it as always a pleasant surprise to see what you find on your plate.

Open Ocean Cage Shrimp Farming

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The global shrimp market weighs in around 6 million tons annually generating about $13 billion of the total $50 billion global mariculture industry.  Shrimp are diverse sea creatures found in nearly all geographical regions of the world and thrive in habitats ranging from tropical estuaries to the open ocean.  Industrial shrimp farming began in 1980 and jumped to five percent of global shrimp production in a mere two years.  By 1990 farming produced 25 percent and the boom has continued so that today 60 percent of shrimp is farmed.  While shrimp is now the most popular and widely traded seafood in the world, its rise in popularity is overshadowed by its social and environmental costs.  Not many shrimp consumers have heard of mangrove trees, let alone understand their ecological value.  These gnarly, tangled giants grow throughout the tropics along estuary banks.  The trees' unique roots absorb both salt and fresh water and anchor one of nature's most productive ecosystems.  These trees buffer the land against hurricanes, collect sediments and other pollutants from rivers, and sustain habitats for numerous creatures.  Mangrove trees also are more efficient photosynthesizers than almost any other plant, creating a steady supply of nutrients for the tiny creatures at the bottom of the food chain.  One study found that for every acre of mangroves lost, wild harvests of fish and shrimp drop by 676 pounds per year.  

Nearly half the loss of mangroves in the world has been attributed to shrimp farming.  Shrimp farms in many developing countries are only productive for a few years thereby leading to a continuum of destruction of coastal areas.  Shrimp farms also depend on staggering amounts of antibiotics, fungicides, algaecides and pesticides polluting and robbing precious drinking water.  Global coastal shrimp fisheries are struggling to cope with collapsing shrimp stocks and record-low prices.  Large trawlers offshore compete with artisanal fishing in bays and estuaries, further depleting the resource base, engendering poverty and spurring conflict.  Land-based shrimp farming only exacerbates the situation through disputes over land use and water contamination from toxic effluents.  Additionally, land-based shrimp farming results in degradation of coastal habitats.  Unlike conventional shrimp capture and farming methods, Open Ocean shrimp farming in cages features the following benefits: no by-catch; no destruction of mangroves or impact on benthic ecosystems; no use of antibiotics, herbicides or pesticides; low levels of detectable waste; low energy use and carbon emissions; and a high level of resilience to climate change.  While in its infancy, Open Ocean shrimp farming is a promising concept, which recently produced 13 tons, or about 130,000 shrimp from one 3,600 cubic meter cage in La Paz, Mexico.  This is the average yield from a trawler fishing a 6-month shrimp season.  Moreover, the Feed Conversion Ratio (FCR) for this pilot program was .15 and the marine scientists monitoring the project believe the FCR can be reduced to zero - the Holy Grail for sustainable mariculture. 

Open ocean cages vis-a-vis wind turbine generators

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Developing and mass-producing thousands of cages for “open ocean” farming for global food security is reminiscent of the wind energy industry during the early 1980s for America’s energy security.  A 25 percent Federal tax credit, coupled with an additional 25 percent California credit and rapid depreciation fueled a wind energy gold rush.  Approximately 16,000 wind turbine generators representing $1.6 billion in tax-sheltered investments were installed as “Wind Parks”.  In retrospect, rewarding capital investment rather than performance measured by electricity generated into the grid was the flaw in the tax legislation.  Thousands of prototypes were rushed into production and many designs were also inherently flawed.  I was the founder and CEO of a publicly traded company, International Dynergy (IDI) that adopted a unique wind turbine design developed and tested by United Technologies.  The technology was in the public domain since it was funded by the U. S. Department of Energy.  During 1984 and 1985, IDI assembled and deployed over $50 million of these whirling power generators in the San Gorgonio Pass outside Palm Springs, California financed as a series of syndicated tax shelters.  With the largess of the tax credits expiring in 1985, IDI teamed with Sumitomo to scale the 92 KW wind turbine to a more efficient 180 KW machine, which theoretically could economically compete without the tax credits.  However, the cyclic return of cheap traditional fuels dampened investment interest in renewable alternatives and the nascent industry faded away.  The years 2006–2008 saw dramatic increases in world food prices, causing political and economical instability and social unrest in both poor and developed nations.  

In 2008, the Haitian Senate voted to dismiss the Prime Minister after violent food riots hit the country.  Prices for food items such as rice, beans, fruit and condensed milk have gone up 50 percent in Haiti since late 2007 and post-earthquake Port-au-Prince is almost entirely reliant on foreign food aid.  Across the globe, the Pakistan army has been deployed to avoid the seizure of food from fields and warehouses and the new government has been blamed for not managing the countries food stockpiles properly for millions of flood-affected victims.  Between 2006 and 2008 average world prices for rice rose by 217%, wheat by 136%, corn by 125% and soybeans by 107%.  Causes are attributed to structural changes in trade and agricultural production, agricultural price supports and subsidies in developed nations, diversions of food commodities to high input foods and fuel, commodity market speculation, water depletion and climate change.  In response to a looming global food security crisis, the $20 billion “Feed the Future” initiative was launched. President Obama pledged $3.5 billion through 2012, which attracted an additional $18.5 billion pledged by other donor countries.  Meanwhile, cognoscenti claim fish farming is set to become the world's main source of seafood over the next 20 years since the current amount of wild-catch in open seas cannot be increased due to restrictive fishing quotas to protect species.  

Fish farming has grown consistently by 10 percent a year for the past 20 years making it the fastest growing agro-business. It represents the only serious option that can provide enough protein for a burgeoning global population.  “With Earth’s burgeoning human populations to feed, we must turn to the sea with new understanding and new technology,” Cousteau said in his 1973 television show “The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau.” “We need to farm it as we farm the land.”  Since tropical seas surround most of the nations where the billion people suffering from acute hunger today live, “open ocean” mariculture offers a solution to supplement traditional agriculture.   In my previous blog, “Tropical Salmon”, I write: “there are numerous advantages to farming fish in a high-energy open ocean environment including increased water flow, reduced accumulation of waste products, and decreased reliance on shore-based infrastructure and fewer user conflicts.  Oceans span 70 percent of the Earth’s surface minimizing territorial competition.”  With the ascendancy of open ocean mariculture, a major opportunity is emerging for the mass-production of an affordable and utilitarian submersible cage design since destructive hurricanes and typhoons are unavoidable in tropical regions.  My wind turbine generator experience two decades ago dictates that the cage components must be strong, durable, and already in mass-production for eliminating expensive special tooling and exploiting economies of scale.  Furthermore, the design must be simple for final assembly by low-skilled locals in developing countries.  Moreover, teaming with a major manufacturer to supply the components is critical for credibility and access to capital.  Quoting Yogi Berra: “This is déjà vu all over again”!

 

Open Ocean Commercialization of the Tropical Salmon

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Cobia (Rachycentron canadum), a species of large pelagic finfish found in warm waters worldwide, is poised to become the “tropical salmon” for marine aquaculture.  These delectable sashimi-grade fish are solitary and non-schooling so until recently, availability for human consumption was limited to sport fishing and accidental by-catch.  Global wild-caught cobia in 2007 totaled only 10,484 metric tons as reported by sixteen countries.  Although the cobia species has been reared experimentally for decades, large-scale commercial production has only emerged within the past ten years.  Cobia have been farmed in Taiwan since the late 1990s, and recently farming operations have been developed in Panama and Belize as well as throughout parts of Southeastern Asia.  In the last four years, China has surpassed Taiwan as the leading producer of farmed cobia.  China first reported a harvest of 16,481 metric tons in 2003.  In 2007, China produced 25,855 metric tons, more than six times Taiwan’s production of 3,998 metric tons for the same year.  The combined production for 2007 was only 29,859 metric tons.  

The widespread use of trash fish in feed is one of the most serious problems associated with cobia cage aquaculture in Asia.  In China, Taiwan and Southeast Asia, cages are usually clustered in congested and pollution-prone urban areas near shore.  Human waste constitutes another source of pollution where artisanal fisherfolk families live aboard the floating cages and pens.  However, early breeding and farming success with cobia in floating pens and cages near shore has propelled the development of the improved concept of “open ocean” closed cage cultivation.  

There are numerous advantages to farming fish in a high-energy open ocean environment including increased water flow, reduced accumulation of waste products, and decreased reliance on shore-based infrastructure and fewer user conflicts.  Oceans span 70 percent of the Earth’s surface minimizing territorial competition.  With sustainable “open ocean” farming technologies, cobia is expected to become a global commodity on a scale comparable to farmed salmon.  Farmed cobia possess many advantages over salmon and other marine carnivores, including impressive growth rates and the potential to thrive on a diet low in fishmeal.  Lethargic farmed cobia accumulate fatty acids so well that producers consider it to be a different product from wild cobia, which naturally has a lower fat content.  Wild-caught broodstock adapt well to confinement and accept formulated feeds.  Female cobia possess high fecundity producing more than 5 million eggs at a time and is some regions of the world they spawn naturally nearly year-round.  In hatcheries constant spawning can be environmentally or hormonally induced for a reliable and steady supply of juveniles.  Protein is the most expensive component of commercial aqua feeds representing more than half the variable costs of farm production.  Plant-based protein sources are being investigated as a sustainable and cost-effective substitute or supplement to traditional fishmeal protein.  Sources of plant-based feed substitutes, such as soy-based protein, are the most promising because of their nutritional profile, low cost and consistent availability.  

Alternative protein sources already provide from one to two-thirds of the dietary protein in commercial cobia feed that is supplied during grow-out.  Research has confirmed that soy-based protein can provide up to 40% of dietary protein in cobia feed without significantly affecting the feed conversion ratio, the protein efficiency ratio, or the net protein utilization.  In the laboratory, 100% replacement of fishmeal protein in cobia feed has been achieved, but it is not yet considered cost effective for commercial-scale production.  With the ascendancy of the tropical salmon, consider the descending $10 billion Atlantic salmon farming industry experiencing a 20 percent shortfall this year.  Disease decimated the 31 percent salmon share produced by about 700 farms in Chile and a major environmental movement is undermining top producer Norway with 33 percent of global production.  Citing unsustainable practices, the Target chain of stores recently stopped selling farmed salmon products nationwide.  The public is becoming more aware that salmon farms have become excessively dependent upon pesticides and antibiotics to combat disease that are rampant in highly concentrated near-shore penned fish – not unlike industrial-scale hog, poultry and cattle on land.  Consider the opportunity for a new paradigm with the “open ocean” sustainable farming of a species with three times the growth rate of the Atlantic salmon, with a food conversion ratio that allows them to thrive on soy feeds yet packs a whopping 1,880 mg of Omega 3s per serving – the tropical salmon.