by Erin Miller
It happened again — a West Hawaii resident observed Kona Blue Water Farms employees pouring something into their fish pens and wondered what it was doing to water quality and the environment.
State officials at two departments said they haven’t received any recent complaints about water or environmental quality around the Kona Blue Water Farms fish pens.
Kona Blue’s Neil Sims, attending a conference in Canada, provided a brief response via a voicemail Wednesday afternoon. He said the activity observed was a standard therapeutic treatment. Sims was unavailable for additional comment Wednesday evening.
Kona Blue takes water samples and reports the results back to the state Department of Health, said Matthew Kurano of the Clean Water Branch.
“To our knowledge, they’ve passed (those tests),” Kurano said, adding he’s seen no reasons for any compliance violations in recent months.
Kona Blue leases about 90 acres offshore of Unualoha Point on the Kohala Coast where it is raising fish in floating pens.
DLNR Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands Administrator Sam Lemmo said his office has asked Kona Blue to fix some of its benthic monitoring reports, which look at the conditions of the ocean floor below the fish pens. That’s the only recent area of concern, Lemmo said.
“I haven’t found any negative effects yet to our resources we’re protecting,” Lemmo said. “It doesn’t mean it’s not happening. I haven’t seen it.”
Those resources include coral, which is far enough from the pens to not be affected; marine mammals like humpback whales, for which no reports of entanglement in the pens have been made; and the native fish population, for which no evidence of adverse impacts have been recorded, Lemmo said.
“People can’t see close up what’s happening, so it creates a lot of fear,” he added.
Yes, the pens have introduced changes, including on the ocean floor, but Lemmo said he didn’t have evidence that those changes are negative. He deferred to the Department of Health on the subject of water quality. The Food and Drug Administration also monitors the use of some chemicals, Lemmo said.
Routine monitoring for the island’s newest aquaculture venture will include third-party water quality sampling, periodic testing of the ahi the company wants to grow and benthic monitoring, Hawaii Oceanic Technology CEO Bill Spencer said. The company’s conservation district use permit prohibits using antibiotics or adding hormones to the water where the fish are kept, but Spencer said his company hadn’t planned on using those, either. The only permitted chemical, which requires state and other approvals, is hydrogen peroxide, which Spencer said is nontoxic and dissipates in the water.
His goal, he said, is to create and maintain a healthy environment for the ahi, so the product is high quality.
He acknowledged not every community concern — for example whether seals or turtles will be attracted to the pens — can be answered before a fish pen is actually in the water.