‘The Lobster Place’ is one of New York’s biggest fish markets. Located in the famous Chelsea Market, it sells thousands of pounds of fish and seafood through wholesale and retail every day.  Here, in 2016, many New Yorkers got to one of their first states of  cobia (Rachycentron canadum): a soft, firm, white-flesh fish, rich in Omega-3 (a 4-ounce serving provides 2500mg of this fatty acid). For many, cobia is a “super fish,” but also the new promise of mariculture.

A less known fact is perhaps that the cobia you buy there, most likely comes from Panama.  “If you visit a restaurant today in the United States and find farm-raised cobia on the menu, there is an 80% chance it hails from the Caribbean waters off the coast of Costa Arriba, in Colón,” explains Javier Visuetti, Open Blue’s Government and Community Relations Manager.  Open Blue is devoted to sustainable mariculture; specifically, to the farming of this premium fish in offshore open ocean farms.  The sea stations are located eight miles offshore, away from sensitive ecosystems, which guarantees a healthy and sustainable environment for the fish; they are the largest underwater fish farm in the world, with unique state of the art technology.

Visuetti is a trained microbiologist who began his career twenty years ago in the shrimp industry; in 2009 he joined Open Blue.  For Visuetti, aquaculture is called to fill an important gap in the provision of the protein required by the growing population of the planet (over the next 50 years, the world is going to need more food than has been produced in the past 10,000 years.). What is more, it needs to be done in an innovative and sustainable way: mariculture.

Fish farmers

Our planet is 70% water. The oceans provide more than half of the oxygen we breathe and regulate the earth’s climate[1]; aquaculture and fishing provide sustenance to about 820 million people in the world[2], however, there is an important difference between the two.

Traditional fishing is usually an extractive activity, while aquaculture is productive. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), defines aquaculture as “farming of aquatic organisms in both coastal and inland areas involving interventions in the rearing process to enhance production.”

Mariculture pertains to a specialized branch of aquaculture that applies acquired knowledge through exhaustive research on fish farming in the high seas, within a closed-up section of the ocean: tanks, ponds or canals that are filled with seawater.

In other words, whereas traditional aquaculture is carried out in ponds in the mainland, mariculture involves growing fish in the open sea, that is, in its natural environment. It is “putting things in place, ” says Visuetti, to farm fish responsibly and sustainably, respecting the oceans and for the benefit of human health.

Mariculture is acquiring an increasingly important role as one of the main sources of high-quality food of animal origin. According to The Economist[3], many fisheries in the world are reaching or have exceeded their sustainable capacity, so it is very important to make efforts for fishing farms to become increasingly productive.

According to figures from the FAO, at a global level, people eat more fish than meat, and farm fish account for almost half of that amount.  Marine resources are running out and climate change is affecting the fishing industry. In this context and given the hike in demand and the increasing cost of wild raw materials, it is essential to produce healthy fish that can nourish current and future generations.

Open Blue: sustainability with the “Panamá Exporta” seal

Open Blue started operations in Panama in 2009 and today, it has invested more than 100 million, has 240 employees throughout the country, of which a considerable percentage is local. It has alsobecome a model worldwide in the field of sustainable farm fishing in the open sea.

The company operates twenty-two sea stations totally submerged and located in deep waters, designed to withstand the toughest ocean conditions such as strong currents, high wind speeds and wave heights. This method enhances the surrounding environment, reduces the risk of disease and provides a humane and natural environment for fish to grow.

Besides their state-of-the-art hatchery and sea stations, they have support facilities in different communities; an administrative office in Albrook and are building a Center for Research and Education for sustainable mariculture, with information on their operations in the country at the City of Knowledge. The Center will help to provide a platform to exchange experiences with local, as well as international academic and scientific entities, and to promote development and research, both key tools in the search for continuous improvement and excellence.

This year, SeaWeb awarded the company the prize of “Champion of Marine Products 2018” in the “Vision” category, recognizing “individuals or organizations that establish a clear and convincing vision of the future and that inspire a positive change for sustainable seafood products.”

Choosing Panama to establish the company was is not a coincidence: the country not only has the ideal geographic location, out of path of hurricanes, but also provides macroeconomic stability for exports as well as excellent connectivity. Geographically, the sea floor in the area where the company operates is coral-free, which makes it possible to anchor marine stations easily and with minimal environmental footprint. What is more, the cobia leaves the country under the nation brand “Panama Exports” (“Panamá Exporta”) enhancing Panama’s visibility in the international market.

 Open Blue also invests in the local economy creating jobs and implementing community development programs that focus on education, health and environmental care, designed to positively impact the people in Costa Arriba, Colón.

Doing business while focusing on sustainability is not a trend or a fad, but a way to do business responsibly.  9 billion people will inhabit the planet by 2050, according to the FAO.  Aquaculture, being one of the fastest growing sectors, will be key to global food safety.

A company established in Panama is making the difference. We have every interest in doing things right, in order not to compromise future generations.

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