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Kona Lab - Where Science Meets Business

HAWAII - The Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority has evolved into the premier site for Hawaii aquaculture. Here marine life is raised in controlled conditions before ending up on dinner plates around the world.

"It really is research in collaboration with industry," said Jackie Zimmerman, general manager for Unlimited Aquaculture. "I enjoy being able to do the research and then apply it commercially. It's all about perfecting techniques and finding out if it's economically viable."

The lab at Keahole Point was founded in 1974 to explore thermal energy development from the ocean, but within 10 years it became apparent the pure, cold, nutrient-rich sea water being pumped up from a depth of 2,000 feet could be channeled into other uses, and the Big Island's aquaculture center was born.

Economic impact

Today, NELHA is landlord to nearly 30 thriving enterprises that generate between $30 million and $40 million per year in total economic impact, including tax revenues, more than 200 jobs, construction activity and high-value product exports.

Statewide the aquaculture industry tops $20 million annually, with the Big Island's enterprises accounting for about 80 percent.

The hatcheries, fisheries and breeding tanks at NELHA -- the state's largest aquaculture center -- are fed by pipeline systems that constantly pump deep and surface sea water to shore, which offers a wide range of opportunities to companies interested in developing and sustaining food sources.

"Normally, to get this experience I'd have to go to the East Coast," Zimmerman said. "But here it certainly makes my job easier to have that access to the deep cold water ... and I can wear board shorts to work, which isn't bad."

Unlimited Aquaculture currently is working with halibut -- native to the colder waters of the Atlantic Ocean -- and sablefish, or butterfish, as well as locally caught moi.

"We're testing to see what is commercially viable as a U.S. crop, what species are going to be viable," Zimmerman said. "We're looking for consistency."

Source: Starbulletin