Two anti-open-ocean fish farming bills have been introduced in this legislative session. Both reflect a profound lack of knowledge of the subject, especially the strategic importance of the budding aquaculture industry to our economy.
HB 221 would stop open-ocean fish farming (mariculture) with a moratorium on permits and expansions. SB 626 would require an environmental impact statement (beyond the already rigorous environmental assessment) and codify a percentage rent on revenues in addition to lease rent. They’re both bad bills, and there’s no room for them here, where mariculture is a unique advantage.
In addition to creating jobs, export revenues and economic expansion, mariculture provides critical food security. We’re still spending almost as much buying foreign fish as buying foreign oil, and that’s simply not sustainable.
We’re Hawaii, surrounded by millions of miles of ocean, the only state with a regulatory process that allows entrepreneurs to pursue mariculture. We should be world leaders in that, but we’re too busy shooting ourselves in the foot.
The two bills ignore the economy and forget our long-standing state policy favoring mariculture. While we equivocate, mariculture has become a $100 billion dollar industry, dominated by Asia, supplying half the seafood consumed globally.
One-third of ocean species are in decline. Modern fishing methods are destructive and fuel-inefficient. Bycatch and indiscriminate capture of immature fish are taking an incalculable toll on our oceans. They’re being fished out.
To meet the demand for seafood, the United Nations’ Food Agriculture Organization says aquaculture production needs to double in the next 20 years. The U.S. has no permitting process to allow the industry in federal waters. Only Hawaii allows that. It’s a huge and growing market, and part of it could happily be ours.
Hawaii can use proven technologies to take fish farming out into the ocean, where its carrying capacity and ability to absorb nutrients is vast. Mariculture doesn’t require fresh water or land, and can produce more protein per acre than any alternative. It’s friendly to the environment, uses less energy and has a lower carbon footprint than traditional fishing.
Now, when Hawaii desperately needs to reinvent and expand its weakened economy, mariculture offers the perfect opportunity for us to be a world leader in an activity that would do just that. To put a moratorium on something so beneficial to our interests would be ridiculous and self-destructive.
Yet there are those who would stop or hamper mariculture at every turn. They are unwilling or unable to grasp the reality of our times. In a session that will surely be focused on the economy, these two bills must fail as spurious and indefensible. Bringing down a food industry is the last thing we want to do.
Increasingly, there are those who systematically oppose anything that smacks of progress: the ferry, the 30-meter telescope, genetically modified crops, even clean energy. We cannot allow Hawaii to become a killing field for progress, with legislators kowtowing to a handful of ill-informed activists.
These bills are not desired by most people you know, but have been slipped into the process by activists, likely Food & Water Watch, a Washington, D.C., lobby group that has regularly attempted to derail mariculture in our state. It’s a twisted cause, and it has no business telling us what to do.
Our legislators have a duty of due diligence. They should have done the research and talked to mariculture entrepreneurs before introducing this kind of wrong-way legislation on the say-so of known anti-progress activists.
Responsible legislators should think twice before imposing moratoria or increasing burdens on industries already overburdened. These bills send a message of recalcitrant isolation, telling everyone everywhere that our state has its head deep in the sand, paralyzed by the "precautionary principle."
We have to do better. We’re in an economic crisis. How about getting down to business?
Jay Fidell, a longtime business lawyer, founded ThinkTech Hawaii, a digital media company that reports on Hawaii’s tech and energy sectors of the economy. He can be reached at email@example.com.