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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, April 10, 2010

Big Island residents raise concerns over aquaculture project

Chelsea Jensen
West Hawaii Today

Kawaihae North Kohala residents voiced their concerns Friday and questioned the impacts an aquaculture industry here, such as Hawaii Oceanic Technology, might have on the Big Island.

Kohala Ranch resident Mike Colson questioned why more community meetings were not held by Hawaii Oceanic Technology prior to the Board of Land and Natural Resources approving the aquaculture company's application for a conservation district use permit in October 2009.

"I'm not against it. I just wanted to know how you can start such an enormous project that has such visceral impact on a community without hardly any community involvement," Colson said. "It smells a little funny to me. ... Fishy, actually."

More than 50 people turned out for a community meeting at Hamakua Macadamia Nut Co. to discuss aquaculture and Hawaii Oceanic Technology's plans to develop a 12-cage commercial ahi farm 2.6 miles off the North Kohala coast.

The Honolulu-based company's submerged ahi farm would span 247 acres off Malae Point.

Ahi, including both bigeye and yellowfin tuna, would be raised on land in tanks until the fish reach a foot in length and weigh about 5 pounds. The fish would then be transferred to submerged, self-powered, untethered cages the company calls Oceanspheres that are projected to produce more than 6,000 tons of fish annually.

Much of the community's confusion regarding aquaculture and Hawaii Oceanic Technology could have been mitigated had the community been more involved from the start two years ago, said Kohala Ranch Association President Marsha Wishnick.

"Isn't there some way that we can get involved at an earlier stage so we can all learn more and be involved in the process rather than come in at the end to see how we can fix it?" she said. "It's clear many people along this coast don't have all the information in reference to the whole idea of aqua farming.

"It's a lack of community involvement in a very involved community."

Kale Gumapac, a Puna resident representing the Kanaka Council Moku O Keawe, said the fish farm would violate 1904 and 1906 Hawaii Supreme Court rulings that he said protects the rights of the makaainana -- the people whose ancestors lived in the area -- to Hawaii's lands and ocean.

"It's an impact on our gathering rights. It's 250 acres of fishing grounds for our people," Gumapac said, noting the council filed a protest requesting the state Attorney General look into the early 1900s ruling. "The Supreme Court ruling protected the private property rights of the makaainana."

Nonetheless, Hawaii is the only state in the nation where open ocean aquaculture is permitted, said Mike Buchal, of Waimea.

"Hawaii is helping develop national standards for aquaculture. The work here is pioneering," he said. "We need to take a step back from this and we should be glad small companies are doing this because it's going to happen."