Get to know the Seafood Champions of 2018
2018 Champion for Vision - Open Blue
By Nicki Holmyard
Panama-based cobia producer Open Blue was founded in 2007 with a vision of feeding current and future generations in harmony with the ocean, by transforming the way in which the world grows protein.
A little more than 10 years later, Open Blue is being honored with the 2018 SeaWeb Seafood Champion Award for that vision.
“We believe that open ocean mariculture, done correctly, offers vast potential for new and emerging fish species and the development of premium and environmentally friendly seafood products, and I’m very proud to receive the SeaWeb award for Vision on behalf of Open Blue,” the company’s president Chris Perry told Seafood Source.
Open Blue has responded to the challenge of siting aquaculture in sensitive nearshore ecosystems by partnering with InnovaSea to develop submerged SeaStation systems for cobia (Rachycentron canadum). At Open Blue’s farms, the cages are tethered to the seabed at depths of around 100 feet, between eight and 12 miles out in the Caribbean Sea.
The company has developed innovative technological solutions for submersible feeding, inspection, and cleaning, all of which are scalable and could be used for other species. The company is also fully integrated, with a hatchery and processing plant in Panama City.
According to Perry, it took six years of research and development to refine the design of the SeaStation and to find suitable operating sites. The company has now been in commercial operation for five years and production is increasing on a yearly basis.
“Our cobia grow well in the stress-free, low-density environment we have created for them,” Perry said.
Fed on a non-GMO diet, with all fishmeal and fish oil sourced from non-IUCN Red list of Threatened Species fisheries, Open Blue’s cobia are fully traceable from egg to plate and guaranteed to be free from contaminants, hormones, colorants, and mercury.
As a result of its focus on best practices, Open Blue has successfully obtained a number of prominent sustainability certifications, including Four-Star Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP), GlobalG.A.P., Friend of the Sea, and Aquaculture Stewardship Council certifications and is feeding into a growing market.
Currently, around 75 percent of its production is sold in the United States and 24 percent is marketed in Europe, particularly Italy, France, the United Kingdom, Netherlands, and Germany. The remainder is sold locally in Panama.
“We started off with fresh sales into high-end markets, and added a frozen range last year after investing in state-of-the-art in-line freezing equipment. This has enabled us to produce weight-graded frozen portions, which is opening up some exciting new market opportunities, especially in retail,” Perry said.
Sustainability is a prime driver for Open Blue, which is built on a commitment to the “seventh-generation principle,” an ancient Iroquois philosophy that the decisions we make today should result in a sustainable world, seven generations into the future.
“We take a three-pillared approach to sustainability – environmental stewardship, fish health, and social responsibility. For many of the communities in which we operate, we are the primary employer and have made significant direct investments in scholarship programs, student transportation, and drilling freshwater wells,” Perry said. “By looking after the oceans, our fish, and our people, we make a difference.”
Aaron Welch, an aquaculture researcher at the University of Miami, has worked with Open Blue since its inception. He said he’s impressed by the results of ongoing monitoring.
“The data we have been collecting tells the story: minimal benthic impacts, healthy populations of wild fish around the site, steady improvements in feed-use efficiency, reduction of predator mortalities to zero, and essentially no water column impacts,” he said. “Open Blue is demonstrating that farms can grow and thrive without compromising their environment.”