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October 25, 2009

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First US tuna farm approved in Hawaii

Hawaii regulators have approved a Honolulu start-up company's plan to build the first US tuna farm in waters off the Big Island.

Hawaii Oceanic Technology aims to create an environmentally friendly open ocean farm for bigeye tuna, a favorite source for sushi and sashimi that's over-fished in the wild.

The state Board of Land and Natural Resources voted 4-to-1 on Friday to give Hawaii Oceanic permission to install three large underwater cages for the tuna.

"I'm concerned on a global level and a local level that we have severe overfishing going on and something needs to be done," said board member John Morgan, who voted in favor of the project.

Unlike many tuna farms around the world which capture immature tuna and fatten them until they're ready for harvest, Hawaii Oceanic expects to artificially hatch bigeye at a University of Hawaii lab in Hilo.

Ocean pens

After the fry grow, the company will take the fish to giant ocean pens about 5 kilometers offshore where they will grow until they reach 45 kilograms.

Hawaii Oceanic expects to avoid the disease problems that have plagued other fish farms because its ocean pens will be large and its fish won't be as densely packed in the cages.

The ocean is 400 meters deep in the area where the cages will be. This will allow strong currents to sweep away fish waste and uneaten food, preventing pollution of the ocean floor.

The project will also be the world's first commercial bigeye farm. Companies and researchers in Japan and Australia have a limited number of commercial farms that artificially hatch and grow bluefin tuna.

The farm would produce 6,000 tons of bigeye a year when fully operational, serving Hawaii, the US mainland, Japan and other parts of Asia. In 2007, fishermen caught 224,921 tons of wild bigeye in the Pacific.

Hawaii Oceanic projects that it will generate US$120 million in annual export revenues, more than six times the value of Hawaii's current aquaculture output.

Several critics told the board they're worried diseased farm fish would escape and contaminate wild stocks, and others worried about where Hawaii Oceanic would obtain its fish feed.


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