From Wave to Table: The Wave of the Future

An artist’s rendering of Hawaii Ocean Technology’s oceansphere (top). The company hopes to produce about 6,000 tons of ahi.

Artist’s Rendering: Courtesy of Hawaii Ocean Technology

Bill Spencer is not a fish farmer. But that’s precisely the business he’s wading into. “Frankly, our whole business model is not to be fish farmers,” says Spencer. “Our business model is to learn the best way to sustainably and environmentally responsibly farm fish in the open ocean.” The president of the Hawaiian Venture Capital Association since 1999, Spencer’s latest venture is Hawaii Ocean Technology, an open-ocean aquaculture company that’s thinking big—really big.

Spencer and his business partner, local oceano-grapher Paul Troy, have developed what they hope is the new wave of fish farming: the oceansphere, an 82,500-cubic-meter fish cage that will hold 20,000 100-pound bigeye tuna, Hawaii Ocean Tech’s fish of choice, which they’re branding as King Ahi. The way Spencer sees it, why not farm a fish that’s in high demand—it’s more likely to be profitable and his company may help ease pressure on wild stock. It’s an interesting idea, but one that has never been tested on this large a scale. “Our projected annual yield once we’re fully operational is 6,000 tons,” says Spencer. He plans to sell 10 percent to the local market, to avoid negatively impacting the local fishery, and the rest to the Mainland and Japan.

While Spencer and Troy came up with and patented the design of the oceansphere, they’re relying on Science Application International Corp. (SAIC), a publicly traded company that specializes in scientific, engineering and technology applications, to vet their concept, from finalizing the designs to devising an engineering and construction plan. Hawaii Ocean Tech hopes to site 12 oceanspheres on 247 acres approximately 2.6 nautical miles off the Big Island’s Kohala Coast. The spheres, which will all have topside buoys, will not be tethered to the ocean floor; instead, they’ll remain in geostatic position, with the tops of the spheres about 60 feet below the ocean’s surface, using technology similar to what the Navy employs to keep its observation buoy platforms in place. The spheres are designed to be as fully automated as possible, which means they’ll have buoyancy controls to raise and lower for annual cleaning. It also means investing in a variety of monitoring technologies to measure everything from water temperature and water quality to food distribution and fish size. “Our No. 1 design objective is to make this environment for the fish as friendly as we want to make it for the ocean we’re operating in,” says Spencer. Pretty much the only thing not being done in the oceanspheres is raising the fingerlings, which will take place at the University of Hawaii at Hilo’s Pacific Aquaculture and Coastal Research Center, which is also helping to develop Hawaii Ocean Tech’s broodstock.

The next step for Hawaii Ocean Tech is to receive its conservation-district use permit from the Department of Land and Natural Resources Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands. Once that happens, the company plans to deploy the first oceansphere in 2010 and, if all goes well, will add a second in 2012. 

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