Categorized | Agriculture

Advocacy groups, Hawaiians sue over fish farming permit

The following statement was issued by Food & Water Watch:

On Monday, national consumer advocacy group Food & Water Watch and Hawaiian environmental group KAHEA filed a lawsuit against the federal agencies that granted Kona Blue Water Farms the first commercial offshore aquaculture permit issued in the United States on July 6.

The plaintiffs allege that the federal government lacked the authority to grant the permit and failed to adequately assess the environmental impacts of Kona Blue’s offshore aquaculture operations as required under federal law.

“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. Yet the federal government is hell-bent on allowing them, even when they have no authority to do so,” said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter.

According to the complaint, under federal law, the defendants can only issue a fishing permit if authorized to do so under a regional Fishery Management Plan, which they were not.

The complaint points out that defendants lacked the statutory authority to issue a fishing permit for Kona Blue’s aquaculture venture and states that they “acted outside their authority and arbitrarily and capriciously in issuing it.”

The complaint also accuses the defendants of failing to adequately assess the environmental impacts in violation of federal law, citing early emails from Kona Blue’s co-founder Neil Sims to federal regulators, urging them to issue the permit as quickly as possible.

“We have cages en route, dock space reserved … The machinations are all scheduled for a Feb. 21 launch date of the cages. We simply cannot defer the launch,” Sims wrote in February. A month later, Sims pled: “[t]he net pen materials are now on the dock … [W]e cannot push back the stocking date any further.”

In March, the government released the first draft of the required environmental assessment. The draft acknowledged Kona Blue’s project could affect several threatened or endangered species and framed the scope of the project as “small-scale,” despite the fact that the permit would grant Kona Blue’s floating fish farms access to more than 7,200 square miles of federal water.

The environmental assessment also referred to Kona Blue’s project site, which is a fishing ground for more than 436 licensed commercial fishermen, as “remote.”

Kona Blue’s permit comes on the heels of a recent, controversial bill (S.B. 1511) signed by Gov. Neil Abercrombie. The bill will increase the maximum lease terms for aquaculture operations from 35 to 65 years.

Initially, Abercrombie publicly threatened to veto the lease extension, which he described as ‘not prudent’ while admonishing the bill’s definition of aquaculture as ‘too broad.’ On July 13, he mysteriously reversed his position and passed the bill.

Food & Water Watch has called on the governor to release any communications he has had with the fish farming industry subsequent to his original announcement to veto the bill.

“The aquaculture industry, the state and now the federal government, are determined to bring industrial scale ocean factory fish farming to Hawaii, environmental risks be damned!” Hauter said.

Food & Water Watch originally reported Dr. Kevin Hopkins, a pro-industry professor of aquaculture at the University of Hawaii at Hilo and registered speaker at a workshop sponsored by the National Aquaculture Association, recently revealed the industry’s approach when he stated publicly at a July 28 event that “Eco groups complain about the loss of food available to wild apex predators [due to fishmeal production which is needed to feed farm-raised fish]. Well, maybe it’s not such a bad thing to lose the tuna. After all, we’ve removed bears and wolves from the land to make way for agriculture.”

In subsequent conversations with Food & Water Watch, Hopkins relayed that this was only said rhetorically and he personally does not support the loss of the tuna “but the decision is a resource allocation issue which will be made by the public.”

Hopkins also added he believes aquaculture is much more efficient than other protein production systems. The workshop, which was held in Kailua-Kona, advised industry insiders on how to combat “public perceptions of U.S. Aquaculture [that] have been unfairly influenced by environmental activists.”

According to a 2010 Food & Water Watch report, any jobs created from the offshore aquaculture industry will come at an expense to taxpayers, since the industry has already received $3 million in government funding.

The lawsuit will be posted on under the number 11-cv-00474.

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