Mational 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. 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. 21st 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.”
According to FWW, in March, the government released the first draft of the required environmental assessment. The group said in a press release the draft acknowledged that 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 over 7,200 square miles of federal water.
It goes on to say "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 bill (S.B. 1511) signed by Hawaiian Governor Neil Abercrombie. The bill will increase the maximum lease terms for aquaculture operations from 35 to 65 years.
“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.
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 Pacer.gov under the number 11-cv-00474.