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Hawaiian monk seal drowns at NOAA-funded site

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    In this undated photo provided by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, an endangered Hawaiian monk seal known as RB18 swam near the shore of the Big Island.

An endangered Hawaiian monk seal has died after wandering into a net pen and becoming trapped at a fish farm that was partially funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Hawaii.

Officials with NOAA said today the death of the 10-year-old monk seal happened at Blue Ocean Mariculture on Hawaii island, the same fish farm that NOAA’s National Marine Fishery Service has been using for research in conjunction with a plan to expand aquaculture into federal waters around the Pacific.

Ann Garrett, the service’s assistant regional administrator for protected resources, confirmed the farm was the same one used for the NOAA-funded research, but could not comment further on the agency’s involvement.

NOAA is working on a plan to expand aquaculture into federals waters despite concerns by some environmental groups who say the industrial-scale farms could do more harm than good to overall fish stocks and ocean health.

The NOAA plan would create a regulatory and permitting scheme for the industry. The plan includes federal permitting and management of commercial fish farms in federal waters, the area of ocean from three to 200 miles offshore, around Hawaii and other Pacific islands.

The agency funded three rounds of research at Blue Ocean Mariculture operation.

NOAA officials said at a news conference Thursday that they believe the seal drowned in the net pen after the farm operators opened one panel of a net pen to release a shark that had gotten inside. The seal died on March 5.

Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources Chair Suzanne Case said in a statement the death is a tragedy and the state will work with federal officials to prevent future problems with aquaculture operations.

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