STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Around the world, people are eating fish more rapidly than the ocean can supply it. Fishing has depleted wild stocks of tuna, swordfish, and other species, and some scientists say the answer now is a massive increase in fish farming, a so-called blue revolution, to help feed the planet.
Fish are already being farmed on land or in protected harbors, but some see a future with off-shore fish farms in waters hundreds of thousands of feet deep.
NPR's Chris Arnold reports on one of the first companies venturing off-shore.
CHRIS ARNOLD reporting:
The Boston Seafood Expo is the biggest fish tradeshow in the country. Nearly a thousand different companies come here, selling all kinds of fish. There are octopus, oysters, live fish, frozen fish, fish from Australia, a big, ugly, slimy, freshwater carp from Illinois, and then in booth #669, there's the fish Michael Wink(ph) from Hawaii boldly calls "the fish of the future."
Mr. MICHAEL WINK (CEO, Kona Blue Water Farms, Hawaii): One of the healthiest fish on the market. No detectable mercury, because it's grown in some of the cleanest water on earth and nurtured from hatch to harvest. It makes a top-grade sashimi, which we have samples of here, as well as a fabulous cooked fish.
ARNOLD: Wink is the president of the aqua-culture company Kona Blue. In front of him on a bed of ice lies a whole, five-pound fish. It's a chunky, silver-bellied fish called an Amberjack, native to Hawaii. It's closely related to yellow tail, which you've probably had if you eat sushi or sashimi.
On the video screen behind Wink is a movie showing where these fish grew up, in giant net cages 80 feet tall, submerged in water that's 200 feet deep off the coast of Hawaii.
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ARNOLD: In the video, scuba divers float outside the cages as thousands of fish swarm around a feeding tube, gobbling up a pelletized feed that's pumped down from a boat overhead. Most saltwater fish farming around the world now happens very close to shore, and there are some problems with it. Shrimp farmers destroy wetlands by turning them into farm sites, and if you get too many caged fish in a harbor, the fecal matter will pollute it. Also, along the U.S. coastline, some boaters, homeowners, and commercial fisherman are resistant to fish farms.
Mr. NEIL ANTHONY SIMS (Fisheries Biologist, Co-founder of Kona Blue): We have to move out off shore.
Neil Anthony Sims is a fisheries biologist and co-founder of Kona Blue. He remembers the first time he saw a prototype of one of these big, off-shore fish cages. He was scuba diving at a research site in Hawaii.
Mr. SIMS: I opened the (unintelligible) and swam into that cage there, and it was like the road to Damascus. My life changed at that moment, and I came back home that day, got on the phone to my co-founder and said, Dale, I've seen the future of aqua-culture, and we've got to be part of this.
ARNOLD: Kona Blue is one of the first commercial off-shore ventures, but researchers are growing mussels, cod, and halibut in deep water off the coast of New England, and the federal government is working on regulations for off-shore fish farming in federal waters.
All that is attracting the attention of some environmentalists.
Professor REBECCA GOLDBERG (senior scientist, Environmental Defense): Escapes of farm fish are a major concern.
ARNOLD: Rebecca Goldberg is a senior scientist with Environmental Defense. She says moving aqua-culture off-shore does not solve some problems that in-shore fish farming has run into.
Prof. GOLDBERG: Escaped fish, even if they're of native species, can breed with wild fish. The result can be like breeding a domesticated dog with a wolf. The resulting offspring can be less able to survive and reproduce in the wild.
ARNOLD: Goldberg says, though, the Kona Blue operation in Hawaii appears to be taking plenty of environmental precautions. President Michael Wink pledges to keep doing that as the company grows.
Mr. WINK: We ant to build a very substantial company, a 50 million dollar revenue company in five years, and growing. You know, satisfying the confluence here of the economic benefit that the investors are looking for, as well as the environmental benefit of having more and more fish in the world that is sustainably grown.
ARNOLD: And Kona Blue has someone on board with experience in building a big business. The company's lead investor is Thomas McCloskey, who was chairman of Horizon Organic Dairy when it sold in 2003 for a quarter of a billion dollars.
Chris Arnold, NPR News.
INSKEEP: You can bring up a video of fish farms by going to our website, npr.org.
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne.