Entrepreneurs Inspired by the Ocean

Entrepreneurs’ passion for the sea helps fuel their businesses

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Neil Anthony Sims says Kampachi Farms is his response to mankind’s unsustainable overfishing of the world’s oceans.

Photo: Joshua Fletcher

It’s no surprise the same ocean that inspires surfers, paddlers and swimmers has also inspired entrepreneurs to make a living off what they love.

They start surf schools, design canoe paddles, cultivate marine livestock, run fishing charters or develop technology that preserves this part of nature. They don’t just run ocean-based companies, they live their dreams and change lives.

“Sure, ‘rely’ on the ocean is one way to put it,” says Neil Anthony Sims, co-founder and CEO of Kampachi Farms LLC in Kona, “But ‘live, breath, love and pray for’ the ocean might be more exact.”

Here are six small businesses that thrive because of their respect for the ocean.

Kampachi Farms

Neil Anthony Sims loves the vibe at the Natural Energy Lab, off Queen Kaahumanu Highway in Kailua-Kona.

There’s a shellfish farm, a diversified ocean engineering firm, a developer of algae-based bioproducts, a 10-acre aquafarm that produces Japanese northern abalone and a company that bottles deep ocean water. Everyone there, he says, is passionate about preserving and protecting the ocean and its resources.

The lab is also home to Blue Ocean Mariculture, an offshore hatchery Sims co-founded that produces Hawaiian kampachi fingerlings. It was so successful that, in 2008, the hatchery produced more than 1 million pounds of sashimi-grade fish without measurable impact to the environment, he says.

Now Sims runs Kampachi Farms, a mariculture company focused on expanding sustainable production of high-demand fish. The company uses copper-alloy mesh cages filled with fingerlings and lets them drift in deep-water ocean. In 2011, it tested 20-foot pens that floated between three and 75 miles off the Kona coast. After six months, the cages yielded about 10,000 pounds of kampachi, a yellowtail fish.

Kampachi Farms isn’t a commercial venture; it conducts research and develops technology to improve and grow the world’s fisheries. It plans to take its commercial work to Mexico and other parts of the world where regulations aren’t as challenging.

“The Earth is an island,” he says, “and we’re impacting it horrendously. One million pounds of fish sounds like a lot, but we need 30 million tons of seafood by 2020 in order to meet the growing demands.”

Sims grew up about 50 miles south of Sydney, Australia, in a steel town that stretched 15 miles along the coast. “I spent my entire adolescence literally on the beach,” he says.

His fascination and love for the ocean led him to study marine biology, working in fisheries management in the Cook Islands for nearly a decade and seeking ways to cultivate pearl oysters in Hawaii. He’s concerned about the state of marine fisheries around the world and considers Kampachi Farms’ work critical to finding effective solutions.

When he talks about the subject, his passion is obvious.

“More than 90 percent of the big fish are gone out of the ocean because we took them,” he says. “There are projections that, if we don’t change the relationship, the way we manage our fisheries, by 2048, all of the fish stocks in the ocean will have collapsed. It’s a massive crisis out there.”

He surfs, dives and snorkels, and loves his work so much that he can’t think of anything else he’d rather be doing.

“I just see so much need. If you really believe you’re put on the planet to do something, this is what I was put here to do.”

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