Ocean Stewards applaud Judge's decision validating NOAA permit for open ocean aquaculture research

The Ocean Stewards Institute applauded a decision by a Federal judge to grant summary judgment to NOAA in a lawsuit over a permit issued for aquaculture research in the open ocean

May 3, 2012

The Ocean Stewards Institute applauded a decision by a Federal judge to grant summary judgment to NOAA in a lawsuit over a permit issued for aquaculture research in the open ocean. 

Judge Susan Oki Mollway released her decision last week, clarifying and affirming NOAA’s authority to grant a permit for aquaculture under the existing Magnuson-Stevens fishing legislation. The judgment stated that for any permit request, “NMFS will have to look at the specific activities proposed and determine whether those actions involve ‘the catching, taking, or harvesting of fish.’” If the permit involves these actions, the ruling declared that such activity is governed by existing legislation. 

The original NOAA permit allowed the experimental “Velella Project” to proceed, where a single, small submersible pen was stocked with 2,000 fish native to Hawaiian waters. The pen then drifted in the ocean eddies in Federal waters west of the Big Island of Hawaii, from 3 to 75 miles offshore, in waters up to 12,000 feet deep. The fish were fed a sustainable diet that replaced some fishmeal and fish oil content with soy and other agricultural proteins, and there was no measurable impact on the ocean ecosystem. The research project was successfully concluded in February, 2012, and the company involved – Kampachi Farms, LLC – is seeking further permits to continue with additional trials.

“The results from this Velella beta-test were of great value to us, and to environmentalists and seafood lovers everywhere” said Ocean Stewards’ President and Kampachi Farms’ Co-CEO Neil Anthony Sims. “We should continue to move forward with developing responsible, sustainable sources of great-tasting, healthful fish. The world’s appetite for seafood grows, and we cannot increase our pressure on wild fish stocks. We need to find sustainable solutions. That’s what this research was exploring.” 

NOAA had conducted an Environmental Assessment of the project proposal, and found that there was no potential for any significant impact. The law suit had also claimed that an Environmental Impact Statement was required, but as the research had been completed and the plaintiffs identified “no actual harm resulting from the [Kampachi Farms] project,” Judge Mollway concluded that the claim was “moot.”  

Sims questioned the reasoning behind the original law suit. 

“Why would you waste taxpayers’ money dragging NOAA into court to try to make them stop giving out research permits? Should we stop all research in the ocean? Should such research be unregulated? Or should we stop eating fish altogether? The extremist groups behind this lawsuit are not environmentalists – they are obstructionists. They are hindering responsible research towards sustainable solutions.”

Sims said that the Ocean Stewards value their close working relationships with leading environmental organizations that are truly addressing the issue of a sustainable seafood supply.

Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter said the group was very disappointed by the court’s decision.

“Food & Water Watch feels strongly that NMFS should not have granted KBWF a permit at all. NMFS’s determination that, when Congress used the word 'harvesting' in the 1976 law, its somehow contemplated allowing the raising of fish in futuristic floating industrial fish farming cages in the open ocean – as if it was traditional fishing – is completely without merit". 

"Regardless, in this case, the governing regional fishery management council never even authorized the activities in the federal waters off of Hawai’i, and a proper environmental impact study was never conducted", she attested.

“Food & Water Watch and KAHEA filed a suit against NMFS in August, 2011, for issuing an illegal fishing gear permit to Kona Blue Water Farm for their Valella Project. The lawsuit is based on the fact 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.”