For the first time in decades, the state Department of Health has approved the growing waters and sale of shellfish by a local grower.
Health officials approved the permit for Sunrise Capital, doing business under the name Kauai Clams. The company is located in Kekaha. It's the first such approval in 26 years.
"We are excited about the future of our new product Kauai Clams, and soon will introduce locally-growing oysters into our product line," said Mike Turner of Kauai Clams.
Paepae O He'eia has also applied for a permit to grow oysters in the He'eia Fishpond in Windward Oahu. "We always wanted to grow more oysters so it can help with the organization to sell and help fund the restoration project" for the fishpond, said Peleke Flores of Paepae O He'eia.
Molii Ponds in Kaaawa, owned by Kualoa Ranch Inc., has also applied for a permit.
The last shellfish operation in the state, Hawaiian Seafood Gardens, closed in 1997 because of financial reasons, and the DOH allowed its federal laboratory certification to lapse in 2000. But local interest in shellfish production revived in recent years, prompting the state to bring the shellfish permit program back to life.
The permitting process is very strict. "We're talking about clams and oysters, which are filter feeders, and they tend to accumulate whatever is in the water where they're growing," said Gary Gill, deputy health director for environmental health. "So it's very important that the water be pristine and clean. It requires under federal law that the growing waters be tested, and that the state have a certified lab, certified by the federal government."
According to Gill, Kauai Clams has enclosed ponds, where it already has been growing shrimp. Those waters have passed those tests. But clean water is more of a challenge on Oahu due to urbanization.
"All the bad that we're getting nowadays is from all this new development and all the runoffs and everything that goes in the stream and directly into the pond and the reef system," said Flores about He'eia Fishpond.
Even so, the state and Paepae O He'eia are confident that approval will be given soon. "We're waiting on our water sampling, making sure we pass our water quality tests," said Flores. "But it should be a few more months, and we should get our permit to be able to sell."