An endangered Hawaiian monk seal died March 5 after entering a net pen and becoming trapped at a fish farm in Kailua-Kona that was partially funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Hawaii.
Officials with NOAA said Thursday the death of the 10-year-old monk seal happened at Blue Ocean Mariculture, 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 federal waters despite worries 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 system for the industry. The plan includes federal permitting and management of commercial fish farms in federal waters, the area of ocean from 3 to 200 miles offshore, around Hawaii and other Pacific islands.
The agency funded three rounds of research by Blue Ocean Mariculture.
NOAA officials said at a news conference Thursday 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.
Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources Chairwoman 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.