Oceansphere project wins permit with extra rules

HONOLULU and KOHALA (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Hawaii Department of Health has issued a permit for Hawaii Oceanic Technology Inc. to deploy fish cages off the Kohala coast after imposing extra pollution control conditions, but a legal challenge may remain.

It's called a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit, and effectively lays out the conditions under which the fish-farming enterprise will comply with the Clean Water Act. The state decided to require advance notification of each new cage installation, reserving the right to attach new conditions or revoke the permit altogether if problems arise.

The permit, approved more than a year after it was sought, lasts for five years. It allows the release of fish excrement and unconsumed fish food that washes beyond the cages. One critic who wrote the state during the comment period said the permit was "not a pollution control permit (but) a permit to pollute." All 23 responses either opposed the project or raised concerns about it.

Hawaii Oceanic intends to cultivate thousands of tons per years of yellow fin or bigeye tuna in submerged cages more than two miles from Malae Point, on the Kohala Coast, north of Kawaihae, in a spot where the ocean is about 1,320 feet deep. Its cages, called Oceanspheres, are shaped so there are no sharp edges to interfere with navigation or wildlife, the state said in its approval statement. The site is about two miles from the nearest coral.

The state added rules for mercury release and requires the company to measure releases and test the ocean bottom four times a year. After reading the public responses, state regulators decided to require a scan of 126 pollutants when any cage cleaning is done and to check the fish feed for pollutants that might be contained in the feed itself.

Bill Spencer, president of the company and longtime head of the Hawaii Venture Capital Association, said the company has spent $2 million over five years meeting regulatory and permitting requirements. "Once again we have been held to the highest possible standard imposed by yet another regulatory requirement," he said in a company press release.

The president of the Kohala Ranch Association, Karl Delaney, told West Hawaii Today his organization was reviewing its legal options, while microbiologist Wendy Minor, in a letter to the same newspaper, praised the state for attaching new conditions. "At first glance," she wrote, "it seemed that the public had no input [since a requested public hearing was not held] but in hindsight, perhaps the input during the comment period made a far larger contribution." She said the community would contact the state if it learned of problems.

The United States imports 85 percent of the seafood Americans eat, and overfishing of open waters has become a global problem, even in Hawaii's relatively remote location, where local fishermen report having to venture farther from port to find their catches. But fish farming on land and, to a lesser extent, in coastal waters, have raised nutritional or environmental concerns.

Another company, Kona Blue, grew Hawaiian Amberjack in cages off the coast of Kona for several years, marketing it as Kona kampachi. The company originally intended to market its product to the sashimi market in Japan, but found California to be a larger market, and eventually decided to move most of its operations to the Mexican coast to reduce shipping expenses.

State response to public comment:


Company press release:

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