by Senator Will Espero
Mahi mahi, salmon, ahi, aku, akule, opakapaka, ogo, limu, shrimp, tako, crab, squid luau, poke. Sauteed in garlic, with wasabi glaze, stuffed, pan-seared, broiled, grilled, with butter-shoyu sauce, covered by teriyaki or miso sauce, deep fried patties, steamed and finished with hot peanut oil /soy sauce / ginger, carpaccio style, or with tomato concasse, chili pepper water, konbu broth and truffle butter – any way you like it. Getting hungry yet?
Surrounded by the ocean, to fishermen’s and seafood lovers’ delight, Hawaii residents consume an average of almost 45 pounds of seafood per person per year. That’s almost three times the amount eaten by on the mainland. Seafood is an important part of our island cuisine. Attend almost any party or buffet and you’re likely to find a fish dish along with the chicken, pork, or beef. Who doesn’t have their favorite recipe or restaurant entrée choice for seafood?
With all the seafood we eat here, we’re curiously dependent on importing 75% of it. Given Hawaii’s ideal water, climate, and technological resources, we should be at the forefront of the explosive global demand for aquaculture. Worldwide the industry has grown 8.8% annually. In 2007, Hawaii’s entire aquaculture industry had $25 million in sales.
Increasing demand has led to depletion of fish stocks in the wild faster than they can be replenished. Farming is the responsible way to go. Sustainable aquaculture can help rebuild naturally occurring supplies of fish and prevent unhealthy reductions in ocean populations.
Aquaculture can and should be a thriving sector of our agricultural industry. Think of it as the seafood equivalent of farming food crops. Plants and animals are bred, reared, and harvested in natural or man-made aquatic environments: ponds, tanks, or the ocean. Surrounded by the ocean, with near-perfect water and climate, it makes sense for us to support aquaculture to diversify our economy. Consider the flavor factor: in-state products can get from local aquafarms to seafood outlets in only a few hours. Fresh tastes best!
Anyone who’s driven the North Shore has passed by the shrimp plate lunch trucks. Hawaii produces more than 30 different kinds of ocean products: finfish, shellfish, microalgae, seaweeds, ornamentals, and other specialty offerings. The list is impressive: kampachi, moi, tilapia, Asian catfish, flounder, mullet, sturgeon, groups, Asian carps, marine shrimp, freshwater prawns, lobsters, clams, oysters, ogo, sea asparagus, and other seaweeds, koi, and other freshwater and marine plants. Most of these aqua farms are small, family businesses.
Deeply rooted in our island tradition. Aquaculture is in line with our Native Hawaiian culture. With a strong stewardship conviction, ancient Hawaiians made an intensive effort to use water bodies from the seashore to the forests as a source of food, whether agriculture or aquaculture. Fishponds – loko i’a in Hawaiian — were abundant in pre-historic Hawaii. All the families in the ahupua’a cooperated in the huge effort to use stones to carefully enclose the water close to shore to build the fishpond. Everyone who worked on constructing it earned the right to share in the catch. The loko i’a were used to fatten and store fish for food. Fish were kapu during the reproductive season so the stock could replenish itself. By custom, no one took more than they could eat. When weather conditions made ocean fishing unfeasible, such as in times of storms and high surf, the fish in the loko i’a provided a reliable source of food.
Technological Innovations. Learning from the wisdom of our Hawaiian elders, open ocean farming holds promise as a means of growing the aquaculture industry. Raising fish in ocean cages protects the stock from natural conditions such as predators as well as other fisherman, and allows for sustainable cultivation of a steady supply of delicious edibles. Ocean farming also is environmentally crucial in that species that could potentially die out due to overfishing can be preserved in carefully maintained farms. The upside of this technology is that prices can be steady, not “market,” due to reliable supplies that can be harvested with less effort than going out to the ocean in a boat and competing with other fishermen.
Chef Roy Yamaguchi of Roy’s Restaurant, wowed 1,100 members at the American Culinary Federation Convention several years ago with a uniquely Hawaiian fusion dish, Steamed Whole Moi with Chinese Soy. The moi came from Grove Farm Fish & Poi, which uses innovative open-ocean farming techniques that allow the rare species to be raised on a commercial scale. Located two miles off-shore Ewa Beach, it is the first open ocean farm in the U.S., and produces 1.2 million pounds a year. Another open ocean farm, Kona Blue Water Farms on the Big Island, produces about 600,000 pounds of fish. It grows amberjack, which is sold as Kona Kampachi and is also known as kahala or Hawaiian yellowtail.
Innovative biotech research makes Hawaii’s “Specific Pathogen Free” shrimp the gold standard for disease-free breeding shrimp. Ninety per cent of the world’s supply to aqua farmers worldwide comes from Hawaii. Technology also supports Royal Hawaiian Sea Farms. There, marine biologist Steve Katase mixes warm surface water with cold, nutrient-rich, deep sea water pumped from 2,000 feet deep. The combination churns the ogo in several above-ground tanks to create a flourishing crop of – drumroll please – one ton of ogo per week. Royal Hawaiian Sea Farms’ impressive output of delicious seaweed is proof that our ocean delicacies can be farmed productively while treating the aina with malama pono.
Operating aquatic farms requires technical knowledge. Hi-tech aquaculture creates high wage jobs, in research, training, higher education, industry conferences, and consulting. Technology helps Hawaii’s water farmers recycle and reuse our natural resources, conserve water, and preserve our land. The carefully controlled environments, scientifically balanced feeds, and close monitoring all work together to result in consistent premium quality. With our year-long summer conditions, our seafood is available all the time at affordable prices.
Responsible seafood farming brings more products to the market and protects the fragile ocean ecosystem. It is a positive solution to the food crisis caused by dwindling stocks caused by overfishing natural supplies. Deeply engrained in our island roots, aquafarms strengthen our economy by supporting jobs and creating revenue streams. Finally, homegrown food satisfies local and global demand. Farm fresh seafood from the islands – it’s good for Hawaii and the world.
Posted by Hawaii Senate Majority Caucus