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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Wednesday, August 13, 2003

With careful control, fish-farming a boon

Handled properly, there is a huge opportunity for open-ocean fish farming in Hawai'i.

The devil is in those first two words: handled properly. There are a host of environmental and ecological issues that must be dealt with in any large-scale experiment with fish farming. But the same could be said of almost any kind of agricultural enterprise, onshore or at sea.

Staff writer James Gonser reports that open-ocean aquaculture is about to take off in the Islands. One operation is already well under way, growing moi, and three other companies are about ready to sign leases of their own with the state.

Within a decade, says John Corbin, manager of the state Aquaculture Development Program, open-ocean fish farming could be a $100 million-a-year industry.

That's a substantial economic benefit for the state.

Fish farming is attractive in many ways. It lessens the pressure on wild stocks of the same species, it offers a reliable supply of seafood and it provides export as well as domestic consumption opportunities.

Still, there are concerns. Some scientists fear that the huge salmon farming industry on the Mainland may be causing as much harm as it does good.

They worry about interaction of farmed animals with wild stock; declining quality of fish that are raised out of their natural free-ranging habitat; pollution caused by high concentrations of fish waste and uneaten food; and disease.

Locally, some are wondering whether the environment can provide sufficient numbers of juvenile fish to be raised in pens to commercial size.

It is crucial that the licensing agencies (both state and federal) move cautiously on this. Strict monitoring must be a requirement of every license.

And the industry must be watched as it grows to make sure there is no adverse effect, either on the environment or on the economic health of the fishing industry, which can be damaged by over-supply.