Fish farms might seem like floating maximum-security jails, or feedlots that resemble trampolines wallowing in water. Near-shore cages can collect waste on the sea floor and act as a breeding grounds for disease. But aquaculture is fast becoming a reality for a protein-hungry world and soon technology could be sending fish farms underwater and further out to sea—all inside what looks to be giant, semi-submersible geodesic domes.
Steve Page, the president of Ocean Farm Technologies, went to Stanford in the 1960s and helped build a geodesic dome in California. He built another dome when he moved to Maine and lived in it until a leak in the seams scuttled the idea making it a home for the long haul. Page eventually went to work with companies farm-raising Atlantic salmon on the eastern-most fringe of the United States. It wasn’t just hearing complaints about the sight of floating cages that bothered him. Page also saw the injuries to both human and fish that came with wrestling heavy nets out on the water. If the future of aquaculture was moving further away from land, handling stationary nets was only going to become a bigger issue—for fish and fish farmers—on these rougher offshore waters. So Page decided he either needed to get out of the business altogether or head in a more sustainable direction.
That’s when he came back to the idea of geodesic designs. "The idea of a modular structure made up of individual triangles that were human scaled and easier to handle made a lot of sense to me." The cages were also strong enough to withstand the push and pull of the tide and the current. If a traditional aquaculture systems represents a kind of stationary feedlot, then these pens were almost like shepherds.
Page installed his first Aquapod—a giant, wire-mesh sphere—in 2005 in New Hampshire. Since then, he’s built 34 spheres around the world, in places like Indonesia, Hawaii, Panama, Puerto Rico, and Florida. "What we’re hoping to do here is develop a turn-key cage system that people can install," he says. "What the Aquapod is proving to be is escape-proof, predator-proof, easy-to install, and easy to operate."
The company recently merged with Earth Ocean Farms in Mexico and is working together on a commercial installation. They’ll be raising fish and shrimp on a farm in La Paz, but Page says the cages may contribute to a wider resurgence of life. "We’re taking basically ocean floor that’s a desert and introducing habitat," he says. "We’re going to be seeing what happens. We’ve found that Aquapods become fish attraction devices in themselves. It’s amazing the diversity of species that begins to colonize the whole water column around the Aquapods."
Page admits that the pens are probably only a small piece of the future of fish farming. "I don’t think there’s going to be any one silver-bullet solution that meets all species in all site conditions. Certainly, there’s a lot real estate out there in the open ocean."