Kampachi’s Controversial Fish Farm

A Big Island fish farm is calling its aquaculture water pen a success so far, but others believe the experiment is a mistake.

Kampachi Farms, run by former operators of Kona Blue Water Farms, has been growing fish in an underwater pen off the Big Island’s Kona Coast.  The pen is kept 30 feet below the surface and, rather then being anchored, it has been tied to a boat.  The boat – and the attached experimental pen – has been traveling in federal waters several miles offshore.  More space further offshore means bigger pens.  And bigger pens mean more fish.

Head of Kampachi Farms, Neil Anthony Sims, told press, “This is the world’s first beta test of an unanchored fish pen system”.  The diet for the fish includes Peruvian anchovies and a soybean protein concentrate.  Sims reported that the fish are eating and growing as hoped, with a loss of only one quarter of one percent of the 2,000 fish initially placed in the pen.

Supporters of the Kampachi Farms experiment, like Eric Schwaab of the National Marines Fisheries Service, believe that offshore pens are innovative and have the potential to help restore fisheries and satisfy consumer demands.  If successful, this experiment may become a model for offshore fish farms around the world, increasing the global fish supply as well as economic opportunities.

But aquaculture has other consequences to be considered.  And local non-profit KAHEA is not convinced that these have been adequately evaluated.  In August, KAHEA joined forces with Washington, DC-based Food & Water Watch to sue the National Marines Fisheries Service, believing that the agency issued a permit to Kampachi Farms for their experiment without thoroughly assessing possible environmental impacts.  Environmental issues involved in offshore fish farms include the potential impact on marine life, effects of increased fish waste, risks of introducing carnivorous fish and the disruptions they may cause to the food chain.  In addition, if the number of offshore fish farms increases, the possibility of privatization could lead to a loss of public access.

Sims attempted to address environmental issues at the press conference, stating that the offshore fish farms would have “minimal environmental impact” and that the depth of the water and strength of the current in the areas where the experiment is being conducted means that fish waste will not be an issue.  This, of course, does not mean that future fish farms can ensure the same, particularly if several pens eventually occupy the same waters.

Are unanchored, offshore fish farms a modern take on a traditional fishpond?  Or has Kampachi taken aquaculture too far without consideration of the consequences?

Sims stated, “Everybody wants to eat sashimi, so pretty much everybody around the planet is looking at where they’re going to get the next seafood from. And almost universally around the globe countries are no longer looking at wild stocks as being where they can grow their seafood supply. They are looking at aquaculture”.  And while his statement was intended to rally support for offshore fish farms, it raises additional questions: If wild stocks have decreased to the point where they are no longer being considered, should we really be trying to feed the increasing demand for seafood?  Or perhaps our priorities could be with utilizing other models of sustainable aquaculture – such as aquaponics and traditional Hawaiian loko i`a – and regulating fisheries so that they are able to naturally replenish and sustain themselves?  Can we ever really satisfy the demands of a growing global population?  When does consumer demand take a backseat to the environmental impacts of such demands?  When will our priorities shift from trying to satisfy a potentially insatiable demand to conserving and protecting what we have left? And will it be too late?