Partnership looks to make open-ocean aquaculture commercially viable

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The world’s largest defense contractor, Lockheed Martin, is teaming up with NELHA-based Kampachi Farms on a venture to make open-ocean aquaculture commercially viable.


The world’s largest defense contractor, Lockheed Martin, is teaming up with NELHA-based Kampachi Farms on a venture to make open-ocean aquaculture commercially viable.

Forever Oceans, as the venture’s termed, will take to the next level Kampachi Farms’ mobile fish pen system, known as Vellela, which recently wrapped up research and development, by enhancing the means for monitoring and controlling the at-sea apparatus and creating a commercial demonstration project, Kampachi Farms co-CEO Neil Sims tells West Hawaii Today.

“We’ve gone and done the research. We’ve proven there is tremendous and phenomenal potential, and now it’s time to move forward,” Sims said. Kampachi Farms is a six-man outfit that uses open-ocean fish cages to raise fish reared at the company’s headquarters at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority in Kona.

And, moving forward means testing the company’s technology on a commercial scale, which is where Lockheed Martin comes into play.

“Some of the things that are being done at Kampachi are quite novel, but really taking advantage of technology robotics, satellite communications, command and control — things that are right in Lockheed Martin’s wheelhouse — could enable what you think of essentially a farming operation in the sea,” Lockheed Martin Chief Technology Officer Keoki Jackson, a native of Oahu’s North Shore who oversees the corporation’s advanced technology strategy and the maturation of future innovations, told West Hawaii Today.

The ability to monitor and control the pens remotely could increase their commercially viability as efficiency is increased and costs are reduced. For example, an employee would simply have to tend the pen once weekly, replenishing the feeding system and fuel generators, Sims said.

“And, the rest of it is run by a research team wherever they are in the world,” Sims said, adding that tasks such as releasing food for the fish could be done remotely via laptop or tablet.

While the technology for such remote work was established during the last Vellela trial, it has not been tested on a commercial scale.

Ultimately, Sims said, the commercial demonstration, called the Vellela Delta Trial, would occur in waters off Keauhou, on the same mooring as the trials, however, a larger pen would be used. Plans also call for having a means for the public to view via the Internet details about water quality in the vicinity. He said the company is awaiting a permit from NOAA and does not have a time frame of when that might occur, but did note the permit for the last trial took 23 months to obtain.

“People always like to say fishing and aquaculture do not get along, but here we have powerful truth of fishing and aquaculture being able to work,” Sims said, noting local fisherman “loved” the floating pens’ ability to attract an array of fish, much like a “huge” fish-aggregating device. “Open ocean aquaculture, if you do it right it, has no measurable impact on the environment.”

In recent times, Lockheed Martin has been working to expand its reach beyond global security by looking to renewable energy projects and those that deal with sustainability, like the partnership with Sims’ operation to make commercially viable open-ocean aquaculture for food. Lockheed Martin also has an ongoing relationship with NELHA and Makai Engineering for the “demonstration and testing” of ocean thermal energy conversion, OTEC, technology at NELHA, Jackson said.

“Clearly, there is a growing demand for energy. If you look at the megatrends in terms of population growth and the rise in living standards around the world, and similarly for food sustainability, we see these as areas that, for the long-term, are likely to continue to generate demand, and Lockheed, where it makes sense from a business perspective, wants to be part of it,” Jackson said.

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