Aquaculture bill: Abercrombie had it right the first time

Ikaika M Hussey

The following letter to the editor by Food and Water Watch executive director Wenonah Hauter is in response to Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s signing of Senate Bill 1511.

In a stunning reversal of his recent, publically-stated intent to veto Senate Bill 1511, Governor Abercrombie signed into law the bill, which will increase lease terms for offshore factory fish farms in Hawaii’s waters from 35 to 65 years.

Last month, the governor announced his intent to veto the bill, describing the lease extension as “not prudent” and admonishing the bill’s definition of aquaculture as “too broad.” In doing so, the governor demonstrated a real understanding of the threats posed by factory fish farms and the need to distinguish between forms of fish farming with lesser environmental and cultural impacts. We can only assume he is now giving in to industry pressure.

The governor claims he approved the bill because it also extends the leases of more sustainable types of aquaculture, including land-based recirculating aquaculture systems and loko ia (traditional Hawaiian fish ponds). However, numerous consumer, conservation, and native Hawaiian organizations, all of which support sustainable aquaculture, had called on the governor to veto the bill since environmentally damaging factory fish farming can cause significantly more harm under the new law.

Worldwide, factory fish farms have caused countless documented cases of damage to the marine environment. In Hawaii, ocean factory fish farming has discharged disease and pollutants into the waters, destroyed live coral, interfered with marine mammals, and endangered the health of wild fish stocks – all with little economic return to people of Hawaii.

Hawaii has failed to develop any State policy on ocean factory fish farming, conduct a cumulative study on the impacts of an expanded industry, or even set clear standards for this type of fish farming. The governor should have stuck with his original assessment of the bill. He was correct in stating that the definition of aquaculture was too broad.

The governor owes the public a full explanation for his dramatic change in position and should release any communications he has had with the fish farming industry subsequent to his original announcement to veto the bill.

The administration must make stopping the reckless expansion of ocean factory fish farming in Hawaiian waters a priority before it is too late. Sixty-five years of damage is not acceptable.

Wenonah Hauter
Food and Water Watch