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Fish Farming in the Open Ocean

Aired September 9, 2012 - 14:00   ET



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Over the next 50 years we need more food produced than the last 10,000 years combined. It is staggering to think where is it all going to come from.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Aquaculture is critical. It's not important, it is critical.

UNIENTIFIED MALE: I think we need to farm the oceans the way we farm the land.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We need to grow the supply of environmentally responsible seafood.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: By moving out into the open ocean we move fish far out to a much healthier environment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) Fish never see the same water twice.

O'HANLON: I'm Brian O'Hanlon, the founder of open blue, the world's largest open ocean fish farm.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to THE NEXT LIST. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Every year the world's population grows. and with it the need for more food. Seafood in particular is in demand because of the high quantity of protein. But the number of fish caught in the wild does not come close to meeting the demand. Right now, nearly half seafood comes from aquaculture or farming, and that's where any new supply is going to have to come from.

Brian O'Hanlan is the founder of Open Blue. Over the last 10 years, O'Hanlon has developed this innovative approach to farming. He is raising his fish far out at sea.

O'Hanlon is convinced the swift currents of the open ocean produce healthier, cleaner fish with little impact on the environment and he is determined to prove it in the pristine waters off the Coast of Panama.


BRIAN O'HANLON, FOUNDER, OPEN BLUE SEA FARMS: Over the next 50 years, we need more food produced than the last 10,000 years combined. It is staggering to think where is it all going to come from?

We're already pushing the limits on land. We're already seeing food shortages in some parts of the world. So we need to pick up the pace and take it to the next level offshore and kind of open up new frontiers for farming.

GUPTA: Can you just tell us where we are right now?

O'HANLON: We're flying pretty much over some Persian jungle here, which is covering a mountain chain. That is Panama. Panama is essentially this string of mountains that comes running down from I think as far as North America.

So it's a pretty much untouched part of the country here. I think you do find some Indian tribes in the jungles here, but other than that, there is no infrastructure, no development at all.

GUPTA: And literally straddled by two oceans.

O'HANLON: Straddled by two oceans.

I think we need to farm the oceans like we farm the land. On land, we don't farm our crops in the cities in these dense areas. The coastal waters are those cities, the dense areas where there is a lot of competing uses for that environment. We farm our crops on land in the vast wide open fields, which is really the open ocean.

You can see the Atlantic here. Not being places in the world where you can go from one ocean to another in like 10 minutes. What you're looking at is a mooring grid. It is the buoys, those big yellow buoys which right now is a ten cell grid. Each cell is about a football field by a football field. There are cages in each of those cells.

GUPTA: How did you decide how far that -- to put up the farm?

O'HANLON: looking for consistently clean water. It just kept pushing us further and further out. Because we want obviously -- want the fish to be in clean water all the time.

I mean, we're the 12 kilometers off the coast from land or pretty much over the horizon. It is very deep water out here. It is about 220 feet deep. There's nothing between us and Cuba.

Our whole goal is to provide more natural, healthier environment for the fish. Eight miles off the coast, out in clear blue water, fish never see the same owner twice.

Also moving them away from conflicted uses, whether it might be recreational fishing, navigational or other activities that occur near shore. We're moving the farms away from sensitive ecosystems. No coral reefs, mangroves or sea rest beds nearby. It is where the fish belong.

GUPTA: These particular fish, cobia, how did you decide this was the fish that you wanted to raise? O'HANLON: It was pretty clear early on that it was a special fish. These fish eat literally from morning to afternoon. You can see them growing. When we put them in the cages offshore they just exploded. We were growing fish to ten pounds a year where a snapper gross to a pound a year.

They are fit to higher energy environments. Fish are constantly swimming. They're not couch potatoes, just swimming around in the pond and it just results in a cleaner, fresher tasting fish. It is firmer meat. So overall the quality is just outstanding.

While we were diving on the cage, we all came out and to our surprise. A large whale shark was circling around outside of the cage. So it is always a treat to see those animals out there. It's -- not many people get to see them because they often inhabit those open ocean waters pretty well offshore.

Whale sharks are actually animals like cobia are found schooling with. Cobia will follow whale sharks in nature. That just demonstrates that that's where they naturally thrive. It is kind of awe-inspiring to be in the water around an animal that big.

I love to go inside and just kind of lay down and look up at the silhouette of the fish with the sun behind them and it is just a nice place to be.



FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, ANCHOR, CNN'S "NEWSROOM": Hello, everyone. I'm Fredricka Whitfield with a check of our top stories.

Intense negotiations are happening right now to avoid a strike at the third largest school system in America. Chicago teachers are threatening to walk off the job tomorrow if school officials don't agree to raise increases and better work conditions. Both sides say they made some progress during yesterday's talks, but union reps say there are still major sticking points to work out.

Just moments ago, defending champ Novak Djokovic beat David Ferra in the men's U.S. Open semifinals. Now he'll move on to his third final in a row. Bad weather forced the umpire to stop their match in its first set yesterday.

Women's finals will also go on. It, too, was delayed yesterday because of bad weather. Later on today Serena Williams will be taking on Victoria Azarenka.

All right, coming up in 30 minutes, she also played at the U.S. Open. Get used to looking at her. She's a champ on the rise. We'll interview up and coming women's tennis star, 19-year-old Sloane Stephens in less than 30 minutes.

I'm Fredricka Whitfield. Now back to THE NEXT LIST with Sanjay Gupta.


O'HANLON: I grew up basically praying for summer to come around early. We'd spend our summers on the water literally every day on the Long Island sound. I remember as a teenager working as hard as I could raking lawns and mowing lawns to save up enough money to buy my first boat, which I did I think at 11 or 12 years old.

I just loved being on the water as a kid. Winter times, times when we were away from the ocean, I just had to this hole inside of me. I just missed it. It was never the same, not being there and on the water.

GUPTA: Was there a point where you said, look, I could make my life doing this?

O'HANLON: As a teenager, I began thinking that and really trying to figure out a way that I could become reality.

GUPTA: A teenager living in Long Island to start aquaculture, that's a big undertaking.

O'HANLON: Yes, I think I was a bit naive and have no idea what I was getting myself into at the time. But I had crazy parents that supported whatever I did and I started really small, you know, started out with a few tanks, eventually trying to spawn snapper in the basement.

GUPTA: What was the biggest tank you had in your home?

O'HANLON: The largest tank I had was about a 3,000 gallon tank which --

GUPTA: So how big is that?

O'HANLON: It was a pool maybe 12 feet wide and it was about maybe three to four feet deep.

GUPTA: Now you say your family was pretty understanding and supportive. It sounds like they would have to have been considering some things that happened.

O'HANLON: Yes. I mean, there was a series of mishaps over the years, starting with tanks bursting, flooding the basement, followed by in the later years fires, which burned half the house down.

GUPTA: So you had a fire as a result -- what happened?

O'HANLON: We had a ventilation fan, because it was warm water, so humid in the basement. It was buckling wooden floors above so we had to put heavy ventilation fans in the basement in order to keep the humidity down and one night one of the fans shorted and started a fire.

GUPTA: How bad was it?

O'HANLON: It burned a good part of the house. We had to move out for about six months. It was a mess.

GUPTA: When things like that happen to you, Brian, do you think, all right, throw in the towel, that's a sign?

O'HANLON: No. Because I guess the reality was before that even happened I had begun prior to that event started working with Daniel Benetti.

DR. DANIEL BENETTI, DIRECTOR OF AQUACULTURE, UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI: My name is Daniel Benetti. I'm the director of aquaculture at the University of Miami.

I first met Brian maybe 15 years. He was a kid. He was a 17-year-old kid and very nice kid to begin with so that all counts a lot. He had that passion.

O'HANLON: I went to Florida to the Oceanographic Institute to take a course on cultivating marine fish. When the whole class got up to speak about what they're doing, what their interests are. I get up saying I'm interested in farming marine fish.

And I have a tank in my parents' basement with a bunch of red snapper stock. Immediately, he's just like, that's impossible. He didn't believe me so he flew to New York.

I walked him through my parents' kitchen, down the stairs to the basement, opened the door to the room where the stock where and his eyes just bugged out of his head. Really from that point on, a really solid relationship began. He really became a mentor for me.

BENETTI: Literally he had his plans on doing offshore aquaculture, open ocean aquaculture. And so here is a young kid full of energy, passionate with the resources apparently behind him and the drive to do it and I really wanted to help. How many people you could say is a pioneer so early in life?

O'HANLON: I guess if you believe enough in something, eventually something good's going to come from it.

GUPTA: When you had -- opened up that zipper and you had me go into it, it was kind after freaky experience for me.

O'HANLON: Can be intimidating, right?

GUPTA: I mean, there were so many fish swimming right at me. What was that like the first time for you?

O'HANLON: It is hard to describe it. It is just a great place to be. I love to go inside and just kind of lay down and look up at the silhouette of the fish with the sun behind them and it is just a nice place to be.

On Sunday morning, just go inside and spending some time with the fish. That's my church. That's my religious experience.



O'HANLON: Cobia is a great fish, but I think it is partly the process that we put into it. The way that we raise it I think enhances the qualities of the fish. We essentially raise the fish from egg to market. We control the entire life cycle of the species.

It begins with brew stock. So we spawn these fish in captivity in a controlled environment. We hatch those eggs. We raise the larva. We cultivate live feeds in order to feed the baby fish for the first 30 days of their lives.

DAN FARKAS, HATCHERY MANAGER, OPEN BLUE SEA FARMS: What you're seeing here is the nursery section of Open Blue. You're looking at 150,000 cobia here between four tanks and they are 25 days old and they are close to one gram, on average, right now.

My name is Dan Farkas and I'm the hatchery manager for Open Blue Sea Farms. Basically after 3-1/2 weeks in the hatchery, the fish are transferred here and will spend about the next six weeks being grown to an appropriate size where we can then transfer them to the cages offshore.

My goal and I think our goal here has been to create aquaculture in a more sustainable setting.

GUPTA: When you talk about aquaculture, food efficiency is a big deal.

O'HANLON: Yes. So it is important for ecological reasons, we are he using a lot of raw materials in the feed and we need to make sure we are a positive contributor to the planet and not draining other resources, whether land-based crops or fish oil. I think given the time and given the research this could be one of the most efficient fish we spawn.

HEATHER TAUSIG, DIRECTOR OF CONSERVATION, NEW ENGLAND AQUARIUM: You need to grow the supply of environmentally responsible seafood and those -- those companies like Open Blue that are really taking this on now and trying to research and innovate are going to be the ones that are really going to be shining leaders as we move forward.

O'HANLON: We're at the International Boston Seafood Show. We're here basically to present our product, tell our story, and meet our customers. This past year's really been a break-out year for us. We're harvesting 52 weeks a year. We should produce about a million pounds of fish this year, doubling next year. It's been pretty exciting.

ROGER BERKOWITZ, PRESIDENT AND CEO, LEGAL SEAFOODS: I have studied sort of open ocean farming a product. From my way of thinking, it is really the best that exists. I really want to see the pure nutrients of the ocean in areas of the ocean that are completely away from any kind of industry, non-polluted. That's really seafood in its purest sense. And if I can get that, that's what I want to be able to sell to my customers.

O'HANLON: It is pure. It's a healthier. It's got the right level of omega-3s, got the right fat content, it is free of any of those harmful contaminants you normally see in the news around seafood such as PCBs, mercury, pesticides. We test and ensure the fish doesn't have contaminants.

GUPTA: There's been a lot of news lately about you go to a fish and order the restaurant, but you don't know for sure what you're getting.

O'HANLON: Right.

GUPTA: How do you address that problem because there's skepticism?

O'HANLON: One thing that we're trying to do is provide full traceability with our products. We're currently tagging our fish. Every single fish that leaves the farm has a unique tag on it with its own identification number. Just like this.

So you see, just a little bit of information about the company and the product and unique number there. The vision for this is one day you go to the web site and you punch in that number and you pull up the life history of the product.

GUPTA: So if your fish arrives at a fish market somewhere, people could pull out this device, scan this and say this is where the fish came from, what was fed.

O'HANLON: Exactly. That's where we're trying to go with it. It's something you can put your trust in knowing that what's going on behind the scenes in terms of producing this food is. It's just being done in a very clean and healthy way for the fish, very sustainable.

Offshore it is a challenging and hard environment to work and we have experienced winds of 2 knots. At 3 knots your hands can bleed holding on to a rope. Otherwise, you're gone. So it's pretty intense.




O'HANLON: We've noticed this issue of food supply is looming. We know it's out there. I don't think enough people are really aware or thinking about what's to come with so many mouths to feed in the world, it is going to be scary.

The United States imports I think it is about 85 percent of the seafood consumed. I think from a food safety, food security point of view, I think the United States needs to wake up and begin producing its own seafood.

BENETTI: We've created this for independence for seafood now, the same way we did with oil. That's -- we are headed for disaster because this is a matter of national security, my view. O'HANLON: I think also just from a pure responsibility, rather than buying fish from other parts of the world, parts of the world that need that protein domestically, the United States has the responsibility to develop fish in our own waters to provide fish grown here to the markets here, not importing it from half-way around the world.

What I'm hoping is that Open Blue is kind of the catalyst for the industry. As Open Blue succeeds, you'll see more attention around this whole issue of offshore farming. We see a future of offshore farming in the United States. I want nothing to come back to U.S. waters and farm it one day.

GUPTA: We had a pretty nice day today, but how treacherous can it get? Describe for me what it can be like out there.

O'HANLON: We've been out there in pretty rough days. We've had sensors out there that picked up even worse days. The sensors pick up seven-meter swell rolling through a couple of years ago over 20 feet. Don't think it is the waves as much as currents.

Currents can get pretty strong and they're pretty challenging to work in. We've experienced currents that exceed three knots on our site. It's hard to describe what three knots is like. At two knots you get in the water, turn your head sideways and your mask gets ripped of your face.

At three knots your hands can bleed holding on to a rope. Otherwise, you're gone. So it's pretty intense. In keeping track of divers in the water working safely in conditions like that is a challenge. We often don't even let the divers go in when the conditions get that bad.

BERKOWITZ: I appreciate what he's doing because fish farming is not easy business. A lot of people have gotten into it and they don't have the stick-to-itiveness to see it through. They compromise at times on what they're willing to put into it to grow the fish faster. Brian doesn't do that. He doesn't compromise the quality of the product. That's very important to us.

O'HANLON: The fact that we're going out, it's not just about fish. My vision is farming many different organisms in the ocean. I really am interested in algae and marine plants and farming these in the ocean. It's three dimensional still.

Lower energy requirements, no fertilizer, no pesticides, more fresh water and I think we can be very efficient growing these crops in the ocean. I think with time what we'll see is an evolution -- I don't know when. But one day offshore we will be producing products to feed the world.

GUPTA: Can you imagine doing anything else?

O'HANLON: No, absolutely not.

GUPTA: Absolutely not. O'HANLON: No. I just have this passion, connection with the ocean so I love the challenge and the opportunity to work in the ocean, to work with the fish offshore and develop the structure. Every aspect of it is just fascinating to me. I love the hatchery site. That's where I started was in the hatcheries learning to spawn fish.

I love that side of the busy and creating something almost from nothing. Being a fish farmer is really not a job. It's more of a lifestyle. It's our lives. It's our lives, professional and personally are very much intertwined. I feel fortunate.

I feel fortunate that I'm not having to wake up every morning and go to a 9:00 to 5:00 job. I feel fortunate that it is something that I just enjoy doing and just wake up first thing in the morning and want do. Just get to work.


GUPTA: Brian O'Hanlon is passionate about the ocean as a potential source of food and is determined to use the open ocean approach as a model for the future. We put Brian on THE NEXT LIST because he is a visionary.

He is using his talent to bring a critical food resource to the world. Where others see obstacles, O'Hanlon sees opportunity. His determination might just steer the centuries old business in a new direction.

For more on Brian and other agents of change, check us out online, follow us on Twitter, or like us on Facebook. Also join me on my live stream. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Thanks for watching.