BY ERIN MILLER
WEST HAWAII TODAY
Tom Oiye is rallying West Hawaii residents, after he learned the state was taking comments on a discharge permit filed by Hawaii Oceanic Technology.
Oiye in April founded Respect the Ocean, a nonprofit organization created to help West Hawaii residents express concerns about open ocean aquaculture, protect the island's Class AA waters and provide more information about aquaculture. He learned this week, mostly by accident, that Hawaii Oceanic Technology, which has proposed an ahi farm off Kawaihae, had a discharge permit before the state's Department of Health.
He said he didn't see the public notice, which the state said was published in West Hawaii Today.
"I'm worried about the metabolic process of high energy fish, carnivorous fish making their own fertilizer," Oiye said. "There's an awful lot of interesting scientific evidence that these farms do have detrimental impacts. There's a host of problems that are there that haven't been explored too much."
Elevated levels of nitrogen and phosphorus can act as a fertilizer, Oiye said, which can lead to algae blooms. Those, in turn, kill coral, he noted.
Oiye said he was also worried about the potential impact the fish farm could have on opelu and akule in the region. The project's size and density was also a concern, he said.
In his comments on the discharge permit, Oiye said he is requesting a public meeting. No meeting or hearing has yet been scheduled.
The Department of Health refused to comment Thursday.
The notice of application was released Dec. 23. People may submit comments through Jan. 23. According to the permit application, Hawaii Oceanic Technology proposed to grow 6,000 tons of yellow fin tuna and bigeye tuna in submerged cages about 2.6 miles southwest of Malae Point, off the Kohala Coast. The company has a 247-acre ocean lease from the Department of Land and Natural Resources.
Ahi will grow in Oceanspheres roughly 180 feet in diameter, the application said. The spheres will not be tethered to the ocean floor.
Hawaii Oceanic Technology CEO Bill Spencer said he was confident his company met the permitting requirements.
"People are confused about the amount of effluent and its content," Spencer said.
For one, he said, he's heard comments from people worried that fish excrement will have E. coli. It won't, he said. He's also heard people say the amount of effluent would be equal to that of a large city. His experts have estimated the effluent will be more equivalent to the amount one person for every 1.65 acres might create.
"The effluent from the farm when its fully deployed neither reaches the bottom or exceeds the boundary of our one square kilometer," Spencer said.
The effluent will be mineralized, he added.
Although the permit is for food, medication and other types of discharge, Spencer reiterated comments he made last year, that the company won't be using antibiotics on the fish.
"The feed will be from natural sources," he added. "There will be no chemical treatments or use of any chemicals at the site."
The public notice, permit application and the Health Department's rationale for the permit are available at hawaii.gov/health/environmentalwater/cleanwater/pubntcs/index.html. Comments may be mailed to Clean Water Branch, Environmental Management Division, Department of Health, Attn: Ms. Loretta J. Fuddy, Director of Health, 919 Ala Moana Boulevard, Room 301, Honolulu, HI 96814-4920.