Fish Farming on the High Seas

Company aims to grow stripers eight miles offshore
The Manna Fish Farm automatic fish-feeding station, now docked at Prime Marina in Hampton Bays Jon M. Diat

Twenty percent of the protein consumed in the United States is from seafood, “and according to the United Nations, the U.S. will need to double its aquaculture production just to maintain its current level of consumption by 2030,” said Donna Lanzetta of Manna Fish Farms in East Quogue, whose company aims to become the first on the East Coast to farm fish in offshore federal waters.

“The U.S. has to do more in this area and I’m hoping our efforts with Manna will take a firm hold,” Ms. Lanzetta said. 

In late December, the New York State Economic Development Grants program awarded Manna a $250,000 grant toward the purchase of submersible cages  in which striped bass will reside underneath an automated feeding buoy on Ms. Lanzetta’s 1.5-square-mile underwater farm. Ms. Lanzetta ultimately hopes to purchase upward of 12 cages, at about $250,000 each, for the farm, set eight miles off the Shinnecock Inlet.

She is also waiting on various permits and approvals to secure her pens to the ocean floor, as well as to solidify her operations onshore. 

“The U.S. is way behind many other countries in the world in developing marine aquaculture,” Ms. Lanzetta said. “The simple fact is that the U.S. is exporting a large percentage of its wild catch and is importing more than 90 percent of its seafood from poorly regulated markets like Asia, that offers an inferior, cheap product. It does not make sense.” 

Ms. Lanzetta plans to use submersible cage and automated feed technologies to grow local, wild species of finfish, as well as research integrated, multi-trophic aquaculture with kelp and sea scallops. 

On Long Island, marine aquaculture has largely taken the form of oyster farming. Several dozen independent operators have grown their passion into sizable, year-round operations to help fulfill the demand for the briny and tasty bivalves in many fine dining establishments on Long Island, Manhattan, and beyond. It too takes a lot of work and care over several years for an oyster to grow and mature from tiny spat into being served ice-cold on the half shell in a restaurant. 

And for fish, it takes years to secure the various permits and approvals to even get the project off the ground. “For sure, it’s an in and Ocean Engineering, St. Joseph’s College, and the University of Rhode Island. “We have received great support and guidance from so many people,” she said. “They have all been wonderful partners who we will work closely with as we continue to expand.” 

She pointed out that if she were to raise striped bass to maturity and eating size (her final permits will formally declare what size fish she will be allowed to harvest and sell), the majority of the stripers would be sold when the New York commercial season for that species is closed (Dec. 15 to June 1). “We don’t want to flood the market at peak times with fish or harm any of those involved on the commercial side. Providing if we do farm striped bass, I look at this venture as filling the gap when the bass season is closed and the demand is still there.”

Already, she said, “I’m getting a lot of job inquiries and in 10 years or so, I can easily see us having 80 to 85 people involved.” 

Last month she was in Las Vegas to attend the World Aquaculture Society’s annual meeting, where she served on a panel on the latest aqua tools technology. “It was a great opportunity to network and continue to learn about the latest trends in aquaculture,” she added. “The aquaculture industry in the U.S. is growing but we are still a laggard compared to so many countries.”