Aquaculture in Hawaii

Aquaculture is the controlled cultivation and harvest of aquatic plants and animals. Farming the sea is a part of Hawaii’s rich oceanic heritage. Aquaculture industry worldwide has experienced explosive growth since the 1960’s and there are many technology breakthroughs that make modern aquaculture profitable and environmentally sustainable.

Hawaii’s aquaculture industry consists of Commercial Production Sector, which includes commercial farming of a wide variety of species, and Research and Technology Transfer Sector, which includes service activities such as research, degree education, training, consulting and professional conferencing. There is a large and growing demand for both cultured seafood and aquaculture expertise globally.

2011 Hawaii total aquaculture sales were valued at $40 million, increasing $10 million from 2010. Algae sales accounted for 63 percent of the value, ornamental category 6 percent, finfish 4 percent, Shellfish 1 percent, and the rest 26 percent includes seedstock, broodstock and fingerlings.


Why Do We Need Aquaculture?

About 63 percent of seafood consumed in Hawaii is imported including from the U.S. mainland according to a 2010 study. Seafood is an important staple in the diets of people in Hawaii. Seafood consumption is further enhanced by millions of visitors every year that seek high-quality, fresh and tasty seafood dishes during their vacation. It is estimated that total expenditures on seafood by Hawaii residents and visitors together is $664 million in 2005. By producing more seafood locally we can generate more revenues, create more high-wage, skilled jobs, reduce our reliance on imported seafood, and we can have better control of the product quality. It is also in line with the State’s food self-sufficiency initiative and will help redevelop a strong regional food system in Hawaii.

The U.S. imports 86 percent of its seafood and the seafood trade deficit has grown to $10.4 billion annually.  U.S. aquaculture accounts for just 5 percent of Americans’ seafood consumption. The high level of imports exposes us to the vulnerability of volatile prices in the international market, as well as to variability in the food safety practices and health standards of exporting countries.

The projected growth of world population will reach 9 billion and over by 2050. To provide adequate food and a balanced diet to more than nine thousand million people is challenging with our already depleted natural resources. Fish has become increasingly popular in the U.S. as the result of national diet change towards more heart-healthy proteins and in developing countries as well when many millions of new middle class people start to appreciate fish as a delicacy. As demand for seafood skyrocketed, the fishery resources are dwindling.  Overfishing worldwide has created irreversible damages to the marine ecosystem and 90 percent of all large fish, including tuna, swordfish, marlin, cod, halibut, skates and founder, are gone.

The challenge of global seafood demand outpaced supply presents Hawaii an opportunity to build aquaculture a strong industry like our tourism. It is also in our nation’s best interest to produce more seafood domestically. Aquaculture is a growth industry at its early stage with rapid technology advancement. If we choose our strategy wisely and act upon this opportunity, we can attract pioneers in the industry including entrepreneurs, experts and venture capitalists and make Hawaii the Silicon Valley in seafood business.


Resources/Advantages That Hawaii Have for Aquaculture Growth

  • Natural Resources: the Islands most important natural resources are its diverse climate, 600,000 acres of suitable land with access to water, approximately 143,000 acres of coastal lands having potential for mariculture, and abundant supplies of fresh, brackish and salt water. Because of the wide variety of micro-climates, farmers have the potential to grow virtually any aquaculture species somewhere in the state.
  • Technology Assistance: Hawaii is fortunate to be a world center of aquaculture expertise in a wide variety of species and technologies. Public and private research organizations have pioneered the development of extensive, semi-intensive and intensive culture systems and regularly consult around the world. Local entities have extensive expertise in the spawning and rearing of mullet, milkfish, freshwater prawns, marine finfish, and marine shrimp. Several companies specialize in the production and sale of certified disease-free shrimp broodstock and seedstock, and oyster and clam seed stock. In addition, Hawaii is home to leading technology companies in microalgae and seaweed production. The level of cooperation between researchers, extension personnel and commercial producers in the local community is exceptional.
  • Human Resources: the high level of resident technical expertise and the general sophistication of the labor force available to high technology businesses are noteworthy for Hawaii’s aquaculture development. University of Hawaii has over 100 faculties in aquaculture-related disciplines, and the state has the highest per capita concentration of private consultants in the U.S., with several firms among the leaders in the world.
  • Financial Assistance: the State Department of Agriculture has low-interest loans for commercial aquaculture, if you meet certain qualifications. Other funding sources include commercial banks, the Production Credit Association, the USDA Rural Development Agency, and the Small Business Administration. Hawaii is also rapidly developing a pool of angle investors and venture capitalists that is increasingly interested in high technology aquaculture projects and a new State law provides generous tax incentives for these technology investments. Please click on the link to access information of available loan programs at Dept. of Agriculture, State and federal levels.
  • Large Local Seafood Demand: Hawaii has one of the most sophisticated seafood markets in the U.S. with per capita consumption at 2.3 times of national average of 16 pounds in 2010. New farmers can establish a strong footing in Hawaii before seeking expansion nationally and internationally.
  • World Famous Tourist Destination: over 9 million tourists vacation in Hawaii every year. Besides Hawaii’s breathtaking nature, the tourists are also introduced to Hawaii’s culture and its products. Local seafood is highly sought after by visitors. Hawaii’s aquaculture industry has a very favorable environment to grow and gain worldwide recognition thanks for the visitors who share their experiences with families and friends. Jointly promoting Hawaii’s tourism and aquaculture products can produce good synergy, which is a unique advantage for Hawaii.


Aquacultured Species in Hawaii

Hawaii enjoys a  reputation for high quality seafood. Aquaculture has diversified the selection of island seafood and produces both warm and coldwater fish and shellfish, grown in fresh, brackish, and saltwater. Here is a listing of major existing products and species in the research pipeline.

  • Abalone (red, haliotus refens and Japanese, Haliotus discus hanai)
  • Catfish (Clarius fuscus)
  • Freshwater ornamental fish and aquatic plants (various species)
  • Broodstock and juvenile shrimp (L. vanamei, L. monodon, L. stylirostris)
  • Kahala (amberjack, seriola rivoliana)
  • Marine ornamental fish and plants (various species)
  • Marine shrimp for food (Penaeus vannamei)
  • Microalgae (Spirulina sp., Hematococcus sp.)
  • Seahorses (various species)
  • Seaweed or sea vegetables (Gracilaria sp.)
  • Seed clams (Mercenaria mercenaria)
  • Seed oysters and clams (Crassostrea gigas, Venerupis Philippinarum, Crassostrea Sikamea)
  • Tilapia (Tilapia sp.)

Active Research Underway

  • Deepwater snappers (opakapaka, Pristipomoides Filamentosus; ehu, Etelis carbunculus; onaga, E. coruscans)
  • Groupers (various species)
  • Halibut
  • Jacks (various species)
  • Live rock
  • Marine ornamental fish (various species)
  • Marine ornamental invertebrates (various species)
  • Sable fish
  • Sturgeon (various species)
  • Tilapia