Open Blue Cobia is a one of a kind company conceived from innovation and a passion for sustainable seafood.  Ocean Blue is proving that deep-water mariculture in fully submersible pens not only has lower environmental impacts than traditional options closer to shore but can also become a positive contributor to ocean ecosystems. Cobia was selected by Open Blue as the perfect fish for mariculture for a variety of reasons, including a closed life-cycle for hatchery breeding, an extremely fast growth rate, and a healthy white fleshed meat extra rich in Omega-3 fats.  At the end of 2017, Open Blue received Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) Certification as well as Seafood Watch ranked status as a “Good Alternative” substantiating their new path of sustainability within the seafood industry.

Founded in 2007, Open Blue is based out of Miami Florida and Albrook Panama City, Panama.  Their Cobia is raised in off-shore enclosed nets located eight miles from Miramar, Panama. The fish are harvested from the ocean pens and transported to the processing facility in Llano Bonito where fish are boxed and delivered to the airport within the same day. The hatchery located in Viento Frio, just down the road from Miramar, raises the cobia from eggs, then transports the fish back out to the off-shore  pens completing the full circle of fish farming. 

Getting fish and workers eight miles out to sea is a difficult daily commute. Compared to most other mariculture that raises fish in open nets close to shore, the resources and logistics needed by Open Blue require additional coordination. However, the high quality of the product and the positive environmental impacts are well worth the effort. Open ocean mariculture is more beneficial to our oceans than in-shore net pens for a number of reasons: enclosed net pens can be submerged in the open ocean, the farm waste (feed and excrement) gets dispersed into a larger surface area, and cleaning the cages is much easier than traditional farm netting.

Open Blue uses enclosed nets that make a giant 6400 cubic meter underwater globe for fish to swim within. The nets can be lowered under the ocean surface beneath the average 8-12 foot waves to calmer waters where cobia are accustomed to living.  This reduces the risk of the fish escaping because the equipment is not being exposed to the harsh above-water environment. The deep waters off of Panama have strong ocean currents that provide fresh oxygen rich waters for cobia to have an active and healthy life. Cobia are carnivores requiring a protein rich diet that includes: fish meal and oil, crustacean meal, and GMO-free plant proteins and minerals. The feed generates a fast growth rate allowing the fish to reach 5.5kg in 13 months.

The proper disposal of fish waste is a very important detail to not only the health of the farm but also the entire surrounding ecosystem. Near-shore farms have a short distance between the fish in net pens, and the fish excrement that falls to the sea floor.  When the distance between the fish and the sea floor is too close, it can create an algae bloom fertilized by the surplus of nutrients from the fish excrement and the light from the sun. Algae blooms can take over an environment and lead to excess bacteria, decreased dissolved oxygen, and a big problem for both the survival of the fish farm and the surrounding native fish. For these reasons, it is critical to locate fish farms in an area that can effectively use the extra nutrients for the benefit of the ecosystem. In general, the ocean’s most nutrient rich waters are those which are closest to the shorelines. Farming fish in an already nutrient rich area can make the environment imbalanced. Open Blue moves its fish eight miles from the shoreline into deep-water currents that spread the farms’ waste over large areas. The farm still acts as a fertilizer for algae, but the increased amount of water and dispersion gives time for the nutrients to be eaten by zooplankton and small fish. This may lead to an increase in larger fish in the environment. Open Blue is currently testing this theory and has been monitoring algae, plankton, and wild fish populations since 2015.

The feed is GMO and parasite free which creates  a sushi grade cobia that is rich in Omega-3 oils.  Cobia is a mild white fish described by Open Blue founder Brian O’Hanlon as, “like a Chilean sea bass meets swordfish. It is incredibly versatile, and you can do just about anything with the fish.  The texture is awesome. It is firm and can hold up well to the grill, but melts in your mouth.”  Cobia has a higher Omega-3 count than salmon, barramundi, yellowtail, and Chilean sea bass. Omega-3 fatty acids play a critical role in brain function and decreases the inflammation that can lead to heart disease, cancer, and other chronic diseases.

Open Blue Cobia is healthy and sustainably farmed fish raised in deep water closed net pens, which minimalizes the environmental impact. Open Blue is accepted in the aquaculture industry as a sustainable farm with certification from ASC, Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) 4 stars, and the Monterey Bay Aquariums Seafood Watch rating of Good Alternative. They also hod certifications from Global Gap, Friend of the Sea, BRC and ISO 9001.  Open Blue Cobia deserves a chance on every white table cloth menu. Try it for yourself!

You can visit Open Blue Website at  openblue.com for more information, and informative videos.  They also have a very fun App that will give you a 360 degree video tour of their farm from Helicopter and Underwater Scuba!

Chad Pettrone
Sustainability Director
Northeast Seafood