WRITTEN BY KAREN ANDERSON
Tucked away at the far end of Natural Energy Lab of Hawai‘i Authority (NELHA) in Kailua-Kona, Kanaloa Octopus Farm is making quite a splash with visitors who book tours of the unique aquaculture attraction.
Continuously fed by deep-cold seawater pumped offshore of Keahole Point, the farm’s big blue tubs provide living quarters for adult octopuses harvested live from the wild for the captive-breeding project.
Marine biologist Jacob Conroy, who launched the re-search-and-development venture at the end of 2015, seeks to successfully raise octopus in an aquaculture setting. His ultimate goal: to become a production facility that can provide restaurants with a sustainable option for locally sourced octopus. It’s a feat that has eluded other research-ers through the years, however, due to the unique breeding challenges of the species.
“This research is in its infancy and the methods haven’t really been figured out,” said Jacob, CEO and president of Kanaloa Octopus Farm. “I got into the field in the first place to provide a pragmatic solution to overfishing, which is less of a problem in Hawai‘i, but more of a problem in Asia, the Mediterranean, and especially the Philippines. I tell people never to buy octopus that comes from the Phil-ippines because of their overfishing practices.”
Rather than jump through hoops for federal grant money, Jacob keeps his octopus business afloat with tourism. Working an average of 12 hours a day at the farm, he finds time to fit in two tours per day to help cover his expenses. The idea for hosting tours came about organically after a visitor posted about the farm on TripAdvisor.
The current facility includes a small, 500-square-foot wet lab with an open-air shack. Now that he’s successfully kept animals alive in tanks where they’ve mated and produced eggs, Jacob will soon be moving into a larger facility to-taling 4,000 square feet directly across the way. The new facility will accommodate 30 tanks, 100 animals and hope-fully two to three hatchings per month.
Round two of the research will involve successfully rearing larva to the juvenile stage. It takes 30 days for a larva to become a baby octopus, he said:
“We’ve had about seven hatches so far, which is good considering how few animals we have. Each hatch is a quarter-million larva each. In the wild, we don’t really know how many larva become adults, but survival out in the ocean is probably one percent. Babies live in a differ-ent part of the ocean than adults. They feed on plankton, unlike the adults that feed on reef animals. The core of our research is to recreate the ocean environment and food sources crucial for survival of the larva.”
Known as the “day octopus,” the species that frequents Hawaiian waters has a lifespan of only a year and a half. Cold-water species in the Pacific Northwest live for about three years. Jacob plans to conduct research on six or seven species eventually, but for now his focus is on the day octopus.
How long will it take before his farm begins supplying restaurants with octopus? “It could be a pie-in-the-sky dream, it could take 20 years or it could be just around the corner,” said Jacob.