Aqua Plantations LLC, a Wilmington-based underwater agriculture, or “aquaculture” company, has developed a system for growing saltwater fish in tanks and is seeking investment capital to expand their business. Aqua Plantations raises black sea bass, a type of Grouper that inhabits east coast waters, in large recirculating tanks and sells processed filets under the brand name “Carolina Black Sea Bass.” The company currently produces approximately 3000 pounds of processed fish per year from their facility in Wrightsville Beach but hopes to secure investment and expand production to 200,000 pounds per year at an inland site near Wilmington International Airport.
In the wild, black sea bass are normally caught in traps, which leads to inconsistent yields and size, said Ted Davis, company founder. In comparison, Aqua Plantation’s fish are raised in 8,000 gallon tanks and fed a diet of pellets when young and then twenty-gram tilapia after they grow past a weight of one pound. This system allows for uniform growth, and the fish are kept alive until the filets are ordered and processed. According to Davis, the two biggest challenges are keeping water quality and feeding protocol balanced and designing a recirculating system that can be used inland. Unlike inland freshwater systems, saltwater systems like Aqua Plantation’s cannot discharge fish waste on land. For example, tilapia is produced in fresh water tanks, and the waste can be spread on agricultural land as a fertilizer; however, the salinity of the black sea bass’ water prevents this use and requires more advanced systems to deal with the waste.
The company is also exploring more environmentally-friendly methods to deal with the material left over after filleting. “The best green option would be to turn it into feed for another animal because our byproduct is heavy in omega-3 fatty acids,” said Davis. The company intends to combine equity and debt financing to develop the site and build a series of tanks and systems to raise the fish and perfect the water recirculating technology. Davis said they are “looking for $3M for the next expansion.”