Aquaculture Magazine

First commercial US offshore finfish farm verges on public hearings in New York

Manna Fish Farms is poised to be the first commercial finfish operation to become permitted for US federal waters.

CEO Donna Lanzetta expects public hearings to commence this summer for her plan to produce striped bass in 70-foot-diameter spherical aquapods off the coast of New York, a venture she began in 2013.

“It hasn’t been quick, but it’s been steady,” she told Undercurrent News.

Fueling Lanzetta the past four years has been her "love of the sea, desire to feed the world with a healthy product, being outraged by the fact that we import 91% of our seafood in the United States," she said, referring to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) statistic showing 91% of all US seafood is imported.

Manna Fish Farms CEO Donna Lanzetta

If federal approval goes through, Manna Fish Farms will be ready to begin operations quickly. It is growing out the fish currently in a hatchery and hopes to put them in the water -- eight miles offshore in Hampton Bays, New York -- next spring.

Lanzetta will begin with one aquapod and produce 100,000 pounds in 2018, but she has plans to produce 450,000 pounds in 2019 and hopes to scale up to 12 pods eventually. 

The aquapods were developed by Innovasea Systems, an aquaculture innovation company that is majority owned by investor Cuna Del Mar, and have a stocking density of 140,000 pounds.

Ultimately, “our goal is to have minimal impact on the environment,” Lanzetta said.

This goal makes the offshore location in high currents of prime importance. High currents enable waste from the farm to integrate into the natural environment more easily, Lanzetta said. The company also has an integrated multi-trophic aquaculture plan, which uses extractive organisms, such as kelp and sea scallops, to improve overall health of the farm’s marine environment. 

The company does not use antibiotics, another decision driven by Lanzetta's minimal environmental impact goal, which many experts have helped her strive toward.

Smart backing, strong technology

A long list of academic and commercial advisers have influenced Manna's development, backing the company with a cumulation of decades of experience in offshore aquaculture technology.

“I don't think progress would have been made without the University of New Hampshire, or without everyone offering their support, including experienced farmers around the world such as Panama and Mexico,” Lanzetta said.

Among its 10 academic scientific advisors are the University of New Hampshire School of Marine Science and Ocean Engineering professors Michael Chambers and David Berlinsky and the University of Miami’s Daniel Benetti, who has extensive expertise in researching and farming mahi mahi off the coast of Florida.

Commercial-side consultants number 12, including Neil Sims, co-founder and co-CEO of Kampachi Farms, a US aquaculture pioneer known for its Hawaii-based offshore aquaculture operation the Velella project, a research venture that was the first finfish operation to launch in federal waters but never hit commercial scale. 

This base of knowledge on sustainable aquaculture technologies has led to some innovative technologies with strong environmental advantages. For example, there is a remote-activated feedings system that would enable Lanzetta to feed the fish from her desk.

The aqua pods use a technology, trademarked by aquaculture innovative systems producer Innovasea Systems, that is similar to those used with the Velella project. The pods would be located 40 to 60 feet below the surface of the water and can withstand strong currents, and have few escapes ever reported around the world, Lanzetta said.

Proprietary feeding system

The feed system operates through a feed buoy prototype developed by Ocean Spar and the University of New Hampshire’s Open Ocean Aquaculture program, which Manna acquired. The buoy weighs 60t and has a feed holding capacity of 20t. It is made up of a hull structure and internal and external water-propelled feeding systems.

The hull shape was designed to withstand the anticipated harsh ocean conditions, which are the nature of its offshore environment. 

The company hopes to deploy its baseline benthic monitoring study—a study on the ocean environment that is part of its permit requirements—in the fall. Finally, it will move equipment, starting with the feed system, out to the site in the spring of 2018.

Approval hurdles loom near and far

Whether Manna can launch in February or March of next year, as planned, depends on the outcome of public hearings, expected to commence in May or June, for its final federal permits.

Additionally, the project faces a legal hurdle. Currently, the Atlantic Striped Bass Conservation Act, which is part of the Magnuson Stevens Act, prohibits Atlantic striped bass from being landed within the boundaries of any coastal state due to a moratorium put in place by the act.

"We will proceed with a letter of exemption, but we will have to switch to another species if the law is not changed by the time the letter of exemption runs out," Lanzetta said. "The letter of exemption will get us going for the first few years."

The moratorium on harvesting striped bass in the region, which even applies to lawfully harvested Atlantic striped bass, went into effect to protect the wild Atlantic striped bass population, which the act states have been “subject to large fluctuations due to natural causes, fishing pressure, environmental pollution, loss and alteration of habitat, and inadequacy of fisheries conservation and management practices.”

Lanzetta is working to see this stipulation is adjusted to account for the fact that her project would not remove any wild striped bass from the ocean.


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