In the classic song Fishin’ Blues, roots and blues legend Taj Mahal romanticizes the simplicity of going down to his favorite fishing hole to partake in one of our oldest traditions. He sings, “Many fish bite if you’ve got good bait. Here’s a little tip that I would like to relate. With my pole and my line, I’m a-goin’ fishin’, yes I’m goin’ fishin’, and my baby’s goin’ fishin’ too.” Apparently, even if you want to bring along a few giant round fish cages and set them up off the coast of Hawaii, soon you can go fishin’ too. According to our federal government — fish farming is the same as fishing.
There are some in the seafood industry who want to expand factory fish farming into open ocean waters, similar to the industrial factory farms we already have on land. Open ocean aquaculture (factory fish farming) has a lot of companies seeing dollar signs, but there are lots of reasons why it’s a bad idea. Unfortunately, this bad idea is taking another step in the wrong direction thanks to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) — the agency tasked with conserving and managing our ocean natural resources.
NOAA’s Pacific Islands Regional Office is in the process of reviewing Kona Blue Water Farms application for a fishing permit to operate an open ocean aquaculture experiment off the coast of Hawaii in federal waters. Apparently, they plan to use the aquapods that we told you about recently. Considering how controversial such a move would be, how is it possible that NOAA could grant a permit so quickly and basically almost entirely under the radar?
For Kona to move forward with their fish farm, NOAA might issue a special “fishing” license — a Special Coral Reef Ecosystem Fishing Permit — that classifies their net pens as fishing gear with an unlisted gear type. That’s right, Kona’s goin’ fishin’ too. Wait a sec… raising large numbers of fish in a cage is considered fishing? I’m not a fisherman by trade, but I know the difference between boats that use fishing gear to catch fish and large underwater net pens that are used to farm fish in the ocean. Something here just doesn’t seem right.
Why does NOAA have the authority to grant a fishing license to a company that doesn’t fish? The Fishery Ecosystem Plan for Hawaii Archipelago — the plan that governs all things related to fishing — says that aquaculture is NOT considered fishing. Additionally, NOAA is obviously trying to rush the permitting process, allowing only 10 days for a comment period on an environmental assessment about the project.
Another bad sign is that Kona is trying to keep this pretty quiet. They aren’t heeding the West Pacific Fishery Management Council’s recommendation to warn anyone about the location of their cages, including mariners, fisherman and shipping companies who might work near the area where the cages will be. This seems an awful lot like the way the FDA is trying to quickly approve GE salmon — it’s a backdoor operation.
Why giving Kona Blue Water a fishing license to set up factory fish farm operations is a bad idea:
1. Factory fish farms use and deplete wild fish stocks to feed farmed fish.
2. Factory fish farms are breeding grounds for disease and they can spread that disease to wild populations.
3. Factory fish farm escapes are a huge threat to wild populations.
4. Permitting Kona Blue to operate could pave the way for quick and rapid growth of aquaculture in open water before proper and detailed impact studies have been completed.
5. There has been little to no opportunity for public feedback on this decision.
Food & Water Watch has joined other organizations to oppose NOAA’s efforts to grant Kona a permit for their factory fish farm. Please join us in our fight to protect Hawaii’s coasts from ocean aquaculture. Stay tuned for updates as we follow this issue closely with our allies in Hawaii.
Take Action: Sign the Care2 petition to prevent Kona from starting a factory fish farm.