Farming the Fish of the Future

It is 6:30 in the morning on the Caribbean Sea, and Brian O'Hanlon is heading out to his farm. As he gets ready to go to work, it becomes clear that O'Hanlon is not a traditional farmer.

O'Hanlon's gear include a wet suit and tanks. His farm sits far below the ocean surface. It is a fish farm. And what he is pioneering undersea may be nothing less than the farm of the future.

"They don't really understand it at first," says O'Hanlon, as he explains people's reaction when they discover that he runs a fish farm. "You have to explain, 'Well, we have cages out in the ocean,' and they think we're catching fish. We say, 'No we're producing fish in captivity.'"

So far, O'Hanlon's farm consists of three massive underwater cages anchored to the ocean floor. They look like they came straight from outer space. Unzip the entry way, slip inside, and you really do enter another world. There are 15,000 fish inside, and once they mature they will go straight to market, and ultimately, to someone's dinner plate.

The Fastest-Growing Food Industry in the World

O'Hanlon, 27, was born to sell fish. His father and grandfather were importers at New York City's fabled Fulton Street Fish Market.

When O'Hanlon was just 16 years old, he decided to enter the business by building a fish hatchery in the basement of the family home in New York. He imported red snapper brood stock from the Gulf of Mexico and tried to spawn them in captivity.

The experiment was going well, until an electrical fire in the hatchery burnt the family house down.

As the ocean's fish stocks dwindle, and consumer appetite grows, fish farms are becoming the fastest-growing food industry in the world. But until now they have had a bad reputation: producing inferior quality fish, and damaging the environment as they do it. O'Hanlon's system is designed to be different.

O'Hanlon's cages sit two miles off shore, 90 feet below the surface, as opposed to most fish farms, which sit in simple nets or cages, close to shore, in the shallow water of protected bays. Those conventional fish farms are certainly cost-effective, but they can been environmentally catastrophic. In many places the fish food and the fish waste destroy the delicate ecology, creating outbreaks of algae and infecting the fish with parasites and sea lice.

O'Hanlon's deep sea system uses fast-moving currents to keep the waters constantly fresh.

"We're growing fish out here in some of the most pristine environments in the world, out here in the open ocean," says O'Hanlon. "We know every aspect of that fish's life, we know what it's eaten and we know what kind of water it's been in. So we don't have that risk of contamination of a fish passing through polluted water."

Farrms of the Future

This is new science, to feed the people of a new century.

O'Hanlon's company, Snapperfarm, is working with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and with the University of Miami to make this pilot project a prototype for future fish farms.

Until O'Hanlon builds his own hatchery -- and he says government red tape is making that difficult -- O'Hanlon's fish are coming from a hatchery on the campus of the University of Miami.

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