Jan. 24, 2005 – Virgin Islanders are going to hear more about Cobias in the upcoming months. This fish has the ability to grow from a three-inch fingerling to an edible 20 pounds in 280 days. Reports are that the fish goes for $4.50 a pound in Miami and people love the taste of it.
Jose Rivera, a biologist from Puerto Rico who works for the National Marine Fisheries Service, was explaining to 15 interested people in the Florence Williams Library on Jan. 12 what this could mean for St. Croix.
A Crucian corporation has plans to reactivate a fish hatchery in Estate Rust Op and begin raising Cobia fingerlings this May. The plans of iii & Associates, which submitted articles on incorporation on Jan. 11, is at first to just supply the fingerlings to fish growers in Puerto Rico.
The principals of the company are Elizabeth A. Farchette, Jannah Abdul Kabir; and Edwin F. Golden Jr. John Farchette has been acting as company spokesperson. He said the company hopes to go from raising the fingerlings to the complete fish growing process in the water around St. Croix by the end of next year or early 2007.
One Cobia growing operation, according to Rivera, is doing well off the island of Culebra and two other companies have initiated the permit process in Puerto Rico. The present operation receives it fingerlings from Florida.
The audience at the library included Sens. Pedro Encarnacion and Juan Figueroa Serville; R. Charles Shultz, University of Virgin Islands AquaCulture program; Stafford Grossman, V.I. Department of Agriculture; and Toby Tobias, V.I. Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The fish are grown in cages anchored off the coast. The cages, which hold about 30,000 fish, were developed in Seattle, Wash. Rivera said the cages have been used for a couple of years off Hawaii and the Bahamas as well as off Culebra. The cage has an inner cage where the fingerlings are kept until they reach a size where they can't go through the bars of the outer cage. Rivera noted that the waters off St. Croix, because they are warmer, could raise the fish to harvesting size much quicker than is being done in the Bahamas.
Concerns were raised in the meeting room at the library whether the cages could withstand hurricanes. Rivera said they could. "The waves just go right through them," he said.
Tobias raised concerns about accidental releases of fish in the ocean and possibly upsetting the balance of nature in the fishery. Cobia are found in the waters around the Virgin Islands, but they are not very common. Rivera said the cages needed to be constantly checked. They have been known to be damaged by sharks. Divers would be involved in maintenance and harvesting of the fish.
Political people at the meeting wanted to know what effect a fish farming enterprise of this nature would have on the local fishing industry.
Farchette, who takes every opportunity he can himself to "wet a line," said there would be no effect because these fish would not be marketed on the island they would go mostly to Florida and also possibly to the cruise ships.
Rivera said the fishermen's association in Puerto Rico has negotiated an agreement where it can buy fish from the fish farm and then sell them locally.
According to Farchette, the first phase would operate from Plot 156, Estate Rust Op Twist. A structure with a roof would have to be constructed to support the tanks, related equipment and piping. He said the permit process would begin 48 hours after the signing of the lease and the lease was still being negotiated. Construction would begin as soon as the company received a permit from the Costal Zone Management Committee.
If all this goes smoothly, Farchette estimates that the first shipments of fingerlings could be sent in July or August of this year.
He said, after CZM approval for phase one, the company would make a pre-application for submerged land from National Marine Fisheries Service for installation of Sea Station TM 3000 cubic meter cages.
The corporation currently does not have government financial support. but, according to Farchette, government officials have shown interest in the project and see the potential for creation of jobs. The corporation is also looking at government loans and seeking investors.
Farchette said recently in an e-mail that the corporation will employ five to 10 employees in phase I. He added, "The corporation is projecting, over a five-year period, which would include the growout and seafood processing, to bring approximately 500 to 1000 jobs with a growth potential at approximately 4 to 5 percent annually.
Concerns were also raised at the meeting about the potential environmental changes caused by the feeding of the fish and the remains of the feeding that would drop through the cage to the sea floor.
Rivera said, in present operations, that has not been a problem because of currents and feeding patterns of other fish in the area. However, he added, if it does come to be seen as a problem an "umbrella-type" apparatus for under the cages is being looked at.
For more information about marine culture farms see www.oceanspar.com or www.snapperfarm.com.
Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.