Expansion at NELHA: Big Island Abalone, Blue Ocean Mariculture announce plans for growth

  • A three year old abalone is ready for market at Big Island Abalone at NELHA. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • Abalone is grown from brood stock to market size at Big Island Abalone at NELHA. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • Kampachi Farms, now a partner with contractor Lockheed Martin, is developing a fish cage that looks like a giant ball. Unlike other farms stationed inland, the mobile fish pen drifts farther offshore in deeper water. Here, the fish stocked into the Velella Beta-test array near Kona. (Jeff Milisen/Kampachi Farms)

Two of NELHA’s Hawaii Ocean Science and Technology Park success stories, Blue Ocean Mariculture and Big Island Abalone are poised for additional growth and expansion that’ll result in the creation of dozens of jobs over the next several years at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority’s Hawaii Ocean Science Technology Park.

The two companies, touted by NELHA as “success stories,” recently announced plans to increase operations at the state-administered facility located at Keahole Point.

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“The timing for this expansion could not be better. The creation of over 150 short- and long-term jobs in diversified industry sectors is key to reviving our economy in a post-COVID-19 world,” said Gov. David Ige. “Hawaii has long been home to both pioneering industry research efforts and commercial activities in aquaculture. The significant expansion plans announced by these two companies will only enhance our brand as a leader in the global aquaculture industry.”

In 2019, aquaculture sales in Hawaii totaled $83.2 million, up 9% from 2017. Nearly 40% of that was attributed to algae, though sales were down 7% from 2019, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service. More than 350 jobs were connected to the sector.

Kowa Premium Foods Hawaii Corporation, which owns Big Island Abalone, is in the process of expanding its current 10-acre abalone facility by an additional 15 acres.

“After extensive examination, KPF Hawaii is now committed to move forward with our research and development-based aquaculture expansion plans that are in keeping with NELHA’s core mission of supporting sustainable industries using sunshine, seawater, and ingenuity,” said Satoshi Yoshida, COO of Kowa Premium Foods Hawaii.

Construction will be completed in three phases over the next several years, he said.

Initial expansion plans include new aquaculture facilities to improve production and operational efficiencies and expand product offerings. The company will also add a visitor center, administrative offices, and sales facility along with a full-service research and development restaurant. An experimental canning and warehousing facility will also be built in the initial phase. Future phases will include a new research and development laboratory and expansion of canning operations.

Blue Ocean Mariculture, which has developed the Hawaiian Kanpachi brand over the years that is now recognized worldwide, is also expanding its business. It currently operates an on-land hatchery that produces fingerlings and offshore operations that are used for grow-out production.

The company is currently working to establish a finfish processing center inside the Hawaii Ocean Science and Technology park to primarily process kanpachi from offshore cages as well as perform custom finfish processing.

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The processing facility will handle over 2,000 tons of fish annually and allow Blue Ocean Mariculture to broaden its markets, which until now had been primarily supplying high-end chefs and restaurants with fresh whole fish, according to CEO Dick Jones.

“We are setting the foundation for the future of domestically produced aquaculture as we significantly expand our production of the only commercially available open ocean grown fish in the USA. The opportunities are unparalleled and with the strong support of the State of Hawaii we are poised for a sustained period of growth in production as well as finfish processing in Hawaii,” he said.

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