Kona Blue is the first integrated hatchery and offshore fish farm in the country.

Lawsuit challenges industrial aquaculture ‘fishing permit’

HONOLULU—A lawsuit filed today in Hawaii’s Federal District Court challenges a fishing gear permit issued to Kona Blue Water Farm by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) for its open ocean aquaculture “aquapods.”

Local watchdog group KAHEA: The Hawaiian-Environmental Alliance and the D.C.-based Food and Water Watch filed the lawsuit to address the misapplication of commercial fishing regulations to industrial aquaculture activities.

“Industrial aquaculture equipment is not ‘fishing gear’ by any stretch of the imagination,” said Marti Townsend of KAHEA. “Industrial aquaculture has distinct effects on the health of our ocean resources. These facilities do not belong in our federal waters. But if they are to be permitted, they need their own specific regulations, not this kind of ‘force it to fit’ approach to regulation and resource management.”

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.” 

“There is a process for making these kinds of decisions,” Townsend added. “NMFS has no excuse for not following the established process for regulating new uses of our collective ocean resources.”

The complaint also accuses NMFS of failing to adequately assess the environmental impacts in violation of federal law.

Industrial aquaculture operations in Hawaii have damaged the environment, interfered with traditional and customary practices of Native Hawaiians, and pushed for the privatization of public trust ocean resources, KAHEA said. Throughout the world, industrial aquaculture has contributed to the decline of wild fish stocks and water pollution.

The aquapods released last month are not the first to be released into Hawaii’s oceans. In March, Kona Blue Water attempted to launch two aquapods into the Alenuihaha Channel ahead of receiving its “fishing gear” permit, but immediately lost both aquapods at sea due to rough waters. One aquapod washed ashore, the other is still lost at sea. 

“This is exactly why the open ocean aquaculture industry is dangerous for our oceans,” Townsend said. “Thanks to Kona Blue’s unregulated aquaculture activities, we now have more marine debris in the ocean, causing who knows what kind of harm to our ocean resources. This shouldn’t be allowed.”

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