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Coalition champions sustainable fish production in Hawaii


Open ocean aquaculture (OOA) operations, also known as factory fish farms, are damaging Hawaii’s ocean ecosystems, impeding Native Hawaiian cultural practice, and sapping the local economy, according to a new coalition launched today at the State Capitol.

The Pono Aquaculture Alliance (PAA) met with lawmakers Thursday to discuss viable local alternatives to factory fish farms, including methods such as land-based recirculating aquaculture systems and traditional coastal fish ponds.

The coalition includes local groups Apono Hawaii, KAHEA:The Hawaiian-Environmental Alliance, the Kanaka Council, Maui Tomorrow, Hawaii Boating and Fishing Association, Gyre Cleanup, and the Hawaii Audubon Society, among others, as well as national consumer advocacy group Food & Water Watch.

“Loko ia, traditional fishponds, have been part of sustainable food production in Hawaii for centuries,” said Miwa Tamanaha, executive director at KAHEA. “Now is the time to find the lessons they have to teach us for the future, and to protect the future of our oceans from the contamination, privitization and loss of public access that comes with commercial open ocean fish farms.”

Hawaii currently hosts two commercial ocean fish farm companies – Kona Blue Water Farms and Hukilau Foods, LLC. Hukilau Foods recently received approval to quadruple production.

Meanwhile, other companies are moving forward in the permitting process required to create additional fish farms in Hawaii’s waters.

According to the recently released Food & Water Watch report, “The Empty Promise of Ocean Aquaculture in Hawaii: Lessons for the Nation from an Industrial Testing Ground,” this economically and environmentally unsustainable industry is set to increase by 900 percent by 2013.

The report said Hawaii’s state waters have been ground zero for industry testing and details the various problems associated with Hawaiian ocean fish farming.

Currently, the federal government is considering legislation that would greatly expand OOA across the U.S. in the form of the National Sustainable Offshore Aquaculture Act of 2009. The act, proposed by Congresswoman Lois Capps (D-CA), would create regulations streamlining the permitting process for factory fish farms in U.S. federal waters.

“Sadly, Hawaii has become the perfect example of why this industry is not sustainable,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “Factory fish farms in Hawaii have damaged the marine environment, are heavily reliant on government funding and tax breaks, and have interfered with Native Hawaiian cultural practices. We should not be expanding this practice in U.S. waters.”

Hawaiian factory fish farms are sapping government funding, according to the report. Recently approved modifications at the existing farms will lead to a net loss of jobs despite an overall increase in production.

Given the $3.3 million the industry has already received in government funding, the report calculates that the 39 jobs created will have cost taxpayers more than $84,000 each.

Despite federal and state investment in OOA, Hawaii’s agencies are not prepared to regulate expansion of the industry and have struggled to effectively monitor the two existing operations. The report indicates that lack of sufficient oversight has contributed to waste and chemicals being released directly into the ocean, alteration in marine mammal behavior, employees’ on-the-job injuries, and other concerns.

According to the Pono Aquaculture Alliance, land-based recirculating aquaculture systems and traditional coastal fish ponds (loko ia) are safer and more sustainable alternatives to ocean aquaculture. Land-based recirculating aquaculture systems are capable of producing large amounts of fish without polluting the oceans, since they are closed-loop, low energy operations that re-use water.

Traditional coastal fish ponds, which once produced millions of pounds of fish annually, are an example of a local technology that could be revived and expanded.

According to the report, these alternatives can meet the need for seafood production while boosting Hawaii’s economy in an environmentally sustainable way that respects the rights of indigenous Hawaiians.

“Advocates of open ocean aquaculture would have us believe that there are no viable alternatives to these destructive ocean farms, but there are, and these other methods should be explored,” Hauter said. “Hopefully Hawaii and the rest of the states will recognize industrial ocean farms are not the right means of supplementing U.S seafood production, before they permanently harm our oceans, the economy, consumers and more.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will host a hearing on developing a national offshore aquaculture policy April 27 in Honolulu.

For more information on the Pono Aquaculture Alliance as well as a list of current members, visit

Food & Water Watch is a non-profit organization working with grassroots organizations around the world to create an economically and environmentally viable future.

Through research, public and policymaker education, media, and lobbying, it advocates policies that guarantee safe, wholesome food produced in a humane and sustainable manner and public, rather than private, control of water resources including oceans, rivers, and groundwater.

For more information, visit

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