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By Helen Greig

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, Dec. 30) – High-tech fish farming is on its way to the Cook Islands - at first on Aitutaki and eventually on a number of other islands.

[PIR editor’s note: Aitutaki island is located northeast of the Cook Islands’ capital of Rarotonga.]

The owners of Fish Bites Incorporated have started a new company called Gotfish to develop the farm using rights they have bought from Australian inventor Ian McRobert's SIFTS or Semi Intensive Floating Tank System.

McRobert invented the technology in Perth, Australia, and is chairman of McRobert Aquaculture Systems Inc. In May, McRobert's SIFTS technology was a finalist on ABC television's The New Inventors.

McRobert and research scientist Gavin Partridge from Challenger TAFE were in the Cook Islands last week to meet with the Gotfish owners.

The inventor also attended consultations between Gotfish and government and the mayor and island council of Aitutaki where they plan to start a commercial fish farm next year.

Gotfish governing director Navy Epati says that McRobert Aquaculture Systems, a U.S. registered company, has sold them the exclusive rights to use the technology throughout the Pacific islands and Pacific Rim countries.

Epati says they will be taking the company to the public on the U.S. stock exchange where they hope to be trading by late January.

SIFTS are tank modules which float within either existing or purpose built water bodies.

Enclosures over each SIFTS provide shade and also eliminate predators from attacking fish.

Epati says the advantages of SIFTS is that the water in the tanks does not mix with lagoon water and contains the excrement from fish to be pumped out into a sludge collector.

Epati came across McRobert's aquaculture product while visiting Los Angeles. Because he was interested in the product's application for the Cook Islands, he visited McRobert in Perth to learn more about it.

So far Gotfish has scouted locations in Aitutaki for a fish farm that will initially consist of about 10-15 SIFTS.

Epati says they haven't decided which fish species will be grown in the farm. They are currently researching the farming of barramundi, pink snapper, parrotfish, grouper (patuki) and mahimahi.

He says the farm will have a hatchery so that all fish are grown from the egg stage.

The Aitutaki development should be up and running by June next year.

He says the farm will ideally produce 100 tons of fish for export each year.

Land based fish farms are being considered for Mitiaro and Mangaia, while the medium to long term plans are to set up fish farms in the northern group, most likely Penrhyn and Pukapuka.

Epati says they are still looking for somewhere to manufacture the SIFTS as there will be a lot of construction work involved in setting up the fish farm. He says the new venture will also mean more jobs for locals in Aitutaki.

January 6, 2006

Cook Islands News: http://www.cinews.co.ck/index.htm

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