Are Fish Farms Polluting The Sea?

Ron Mizutani
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Wednesday - April 21, 2010
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Kona Blue Water Farms’ Kydd Pollock with the first harvest of Kona Kampachi. That’s the raised cage in the background

It’s no secret, we love to eat fish. If there are any doubts, just look at how much we’re willing to spend on high-grade ahi for New Year’s sashimi.

But are we paying more than we bargained for when it comes to Hawaii’s fish farms?

A recent report by a consumer advocate from Washington, D.C., is highly critical of Hawaii’s open ocean aquaculture industry. Christina Lizzi of Food & Water Watch says Hawaii has long been considered “ground zero” for industry testing.

“There are currently two commercial fish farms: There’s Hukilau Foods, which was once Cates International off Ewa Beach, and there’s Kona Blue Water Farms off Kona,” says Lizzi. “These farms are damaging ocean ecosystems and sapping the local economy.”

Hukilau Foods raises moi off Oahu and focuses on the local market. Kona Blue Water Farms grows sashimi-grade Kona Kampachi and exports most of its product.


“This still has the appearance to some as a science fair project and Hawaii is being the guinea pig for open ocean aquaculture,” adds Rob Parsons of Food & Water Watch.

According to the report, factory fish farms cram large numbers of fish into huge open-ocean cages or nets, decimating the livelihood of local fishermen and harming consumers with the chemicals, antibiotics and fish waste that flow into the ocean.

“You protect the farm fish in the cage from the large predators, but you do not protect them from the pathogens present in all wild populations,” says University of Hawaii professor Neil Frazer. “Meanwhile the farm fish are shedding pathogens into the water and the wild fish take the hit.”

Those in the industry are firing back.

“There is no detectable impact on water quality, the farm site itself is out in water more than 200 feet deep over a sand bottom,” says Neil Sims, co-founder, president and CEO of Kona Blue Water Farms Inc. “There is no evidence whatsoever of any proliferation of pests or parasites in those fish.”

Lizzi says the industry is set to expand production by 900 percent in the next few years.

The president of Hawaii Oceanic Technology Inc., Bill Spencer, says the company received a Conservation District Use Permit last October to obtain an ocean lease in waters 2.6 nautical miles off North Kohala. He says the company intends to farm in an environmentally responsible way to meet the increasing global demand for seafood. It plans to operate outside the whale sanctuary and away from shipping lanes and cultural and recreational fishing sites.

“We’ve been held to the highest possible standard the state of Hawaii can impose to obtain the right to operate in territorial waters,” says Spencer. “Our primary objective is environmental responsibility and to make a substantial economic contribution to the local economy. “

Critics say the farm companies are trying to make Hawaii the Silicone Valley of fish farms.

“We’re not interested in that because we have to take care of our ocean and our land,” says Kale Gumapac, who is part of a new hui called Pono Aquaculture Alliance, or Pa’a. “Why are we going after open-ocean fish farms when we should be using those monies to restore our own fishponds that we have now.”

“Industrial sea cage aqua-culture is like cocaine. A little bit feels good and does-n’t do too much harm, but it’s very hard to stop,” says Frazer.

Opponents are asking for sustainable and responsible aquaculture policies. They also are calling for a moratorium on the expansion of the industry.

“We’re not opposed to open-ocean aquaculture, but we are opposed to the current way it’s being practiced,” says local fisherman Isaac Harp.

“We are deeply, passionately concerned about the crisis that the ocean faces and about making sure that we do this in an environmentally sound way,” says Sims.

“We are growing fish in the ocean, and that’s where they belong. To grow fish on land is like trying to grow chickens in a submarine.”

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