Steve Page arrives in Guaymas

By

Whit Richardson , SeafoodSource contributing editor

Published on
November 19, 2009

I received a call this morning at 8 a.m. from Steve Page, the owner of Ocean Farm Technologies in Searsmont, Maine. He had arrived in Guaymas the night before and was in Mexico to help Pesquera Delly deploy several of their AquaPods over the next several weeks.

Steve told me he would be at the shipyard in Guaymas all morning overseeing the construction of a smaller AquaPod and for me to come down any time. I hopped on a bus and made the trip to the Guaymas waterfront, passing piers lined with the rusted hulks of shrimp trawlers that had seen better days.

I arrived at the shipyard unequipped linguistically to talk my way past the security guard, who was an older man with deep wrinkles and silver-framed front teeth. I tried to explain I was supposed to meet someone there, but he didn't understand. I told him I was a journalist in Spanish, which may have been the wrong choice since it only seemed to fortify his position that I did not belong. I then dropped Oscar Valdez's name and said I was there to meet him. I wasn't, but I thought I'd take a chance. Oscar Valdez is the owner of Pesquera Delly, but I wasn't there to meet him nor did I know if he was even at the shipyard that morning. Luckily, he was. Though even he tried to turn me away with claims that everybody was too busy until I told him Steve Page had invited me down that morning. Long story, short, I finally gained entrance into the shipyard.

Pesquera Delly employees were still putting together the smaller AquaPod that was being assembled when I had visited the shipyard last week. Steve Page dubbed the smaller cages MicroPods because their 27-foot diameter and 212 cubic meters of volume is dwarfed by the 64-foot diameter and 3,600 cubic meters of its big brother. Still, each of the eight MicroPods Pesquera Delly plans to deply could provide up to eight tons of farm-raised shrimp. That's not a bad yield given the fact that a local shrimp trawler may pull in, on average, 13 tons of shrimp during the six-month shrimp fishing season, Javier Valdez, one of Oscar's sons, tells me while standing under the unfinished MicroPod.

Right now the MicroPods are being used for experimental purposes -- checking the viability of new materials and configurations -- but the longer-term goal is to demonstrate the economic viability of the MicroPod as a platform for helping transition struggling fishermen into small-scale fish farmers. This long-term goal is shared by Brian O'Hanlon at Open Blue Sea Farms in Panama and Pesquera Delly in Mexico. The idea has also garnered some attention from around the world. Steve says he's received inquiries from countries such as Ecuador and Indonesia about the MicroPods as an alternative for local fishermen.

It doesn't matter if I'm in Maine, Panama or Mexico, the stories I've heard all have the same theme: Poorly managed wild fisheries have meant poor yields for the fishermen, prices for their catch are not going up while the cost of doing business only seems to increase. I'm sure the MicroPod will play into the recently announced Cod Academy program in Maine, where former fishermen will spend a year learning the ins and outs of aquaculture. (I plan to cover this new program in more depth when I return to Maine.)

Steve was also in Guaymas to get an update from Oscar Valdez about how the project was going. Using offshore cages to farm fish is a new idea, but using AquaPods to farm shrimp is an even bolded endeavor. "In the beginning, when we begin with this project, many people say 'You're crazy. You put shrimp inside [the cages]? No, it's not possible.'" Oscar says.

But Oscar and Pesquera Delly, looking for an alternative to shrimp fishing, is confident that farming shrimp in offshore cages is the way of the future. Even Steve is blown away by the project. "If you had asked me a year ago if I would be designing a containment system for shrimp, I would have laughed," he says.

Pesquera Delly already has one 3,600-cubic-meter AquaPod deployed two kilometers off San Carlos and it has already produced one harvest of approximately 13 tons, or 130,000 adult shrimp. Unfortunately, the expected yield was supposed to be 40 tons. The culprit? Hurricane Jemina. The hurricane-induced conditions created strong ocean currents from unexpected directions that caused gaps between some of the AquaPods panels and allowed a significant amount of shrimp to escape.

That trial run has taught Pesquera Delly many things. "We need to change the design of the cage because it's not fish, it's shrimp," Oscar says.

One change that's already been made is that Steve and his engineers have designed a completely new mooring system for the site given the hurricane experience. Over the next few days, Pesquera Delly plans to tow the MicroPod to the site two kilometers off San Carlos and deploy it in 120 feet of water. Stay tuned.

* Originally posted to The New Aquaculture on Tuesday, November 17, 2009.

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