By ERIN MILLER
Stephens Media Hawaii
Federal officials have given Kampachi Farms an environmental approval for a one-year offshore fish farming project near Keauhou Bay.
The permit for the aquaculture company, which took over from Kona Blue in 2011, gives them through October 2014, to conduct a single trial and harvest of kahala, or Kona Kampachi, in a spherical CuPod cage in federal waters, no closer than 3 nautical miles to the West Hawaii shoreline. The National Marine Fisheries Service is the permit issuing agency.
The proposal, for which a finding of no significant impact was issued Friday, drew significant criticism from environmental groups and individuals. The fish would be kept in a brass-link mesh cage about 21 feet in diameter, tethered to a moored surface vehicle in federal waters about 5.5 nautical miles west of Keauhou Bay. The water’s depth there is about 6,000 feet.
A Special Coral Reef Ecosystem Fishing Permit would allow Kampachi Farms to test “the feasibility of harvesting a native marine fish species using an anchored feed vessel and submersible CuPod in waters of the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone,” the environmental assessment said.
According to the assessment, Kampachi Farms selected the site off Keauhou Bay because of currents there that would flow through the CuPod, as well as the proximity to harbors, which allows for less travel time to service the mooring vessel and CuPod.
A message left with Kampachi Farms’ Neil Sims was not immediately returned Friday.
Food and Water Watch, which previously filed a lawsuit over a previous National Marine Fisheries Service permit issued to Kona Blue for a similar test project, said the service does not have the legal authority to grant such permits.
“While the agency might disagree with this, it must concede that its permitting authority is far from settled,” senior staff attorney Zachary Corrigan wrote in the environmental group’s lengthy submission during the environmental assessment comment period. “Were the agency to proceed in issuing the permit, and were a court to declare that NMFS has no such authority, a large amount of federal government resources and taxpayer dollars would be wasted.”
Marianne Cufone, executive director of Louisiana-based Recirculating Farms Coalition, also argued the NMFS could not issue the permit.
Cufone noted another reason the organization, which supports farming that uses recycled water to grow food, opposed the permit request.
“We are very concerned that despite these existing and constantly expanding sustainable technologies to raise fish and a wide range of other products, that NMFS is continuing to waste precious taxpayer dollars and agency time to explore outdated and a globally documented problematic means of raising fish in open waters,” Cufone wrote.
Food and Water Watch offered several additional arguments against the project. The likelihood of the fish pen becoming a fish aggregating device is a significant impact, Corrigan wrote. The West Pacific Fishery Management Council’s executive director did not recommend authorizing the permit, he wrote, because a NMFS special fishing permit is “not intended to extend to any ‘culturing’ activities.’”
The permit “expressly authorizes” culturing of 2,000 fingerling kahala, Corrigan added.
Food and Water Watch officials also noted concerns about the lack of serious consideration given to any alternate sites for the project.
“Of course, some of the likely reasons that these areas have not been proposed for further evaluation are that they are farther away and more costly,” Corrigan wrote. “And, it is likely that permitting in one of those areas would undermine Kampachi’s unstated purpose for this and (Kona Blue’s) Beta Trial project: to conduct its aquaculture operations under NMFS’s streamlined regulations in federal waters and avoid state regulation.”
Finally, Corrigan wrote, Kona Blue during a previous trial failed to accurately state the number of fish that escaped from its fish pen. The company said 13 fish escaped and all were captured. Corrigan said based on the number of fingerlings at the project’s start, the number harvested and the company’s self-reported mortality rate, nearly 200 fish were unaccounted for by Kona Blue’s figures.
Email Erin Miller at email@example.com.