OOA: The Next Mahele?

Posted by Marti Townsend at Nov 10, 2009 06:53 PM |
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OOA experiments in Hawaii.

Picture of the OOA experiment from HOT, Inc.

From Marti:

The Hawaii Board of Land and Natural Resources just took 250 acres of ocean along the North Kohala coast out of the public trust and gave it all to a private company for experiments in Open Ocean Aquaculture (OOA).

OOA is the practice of raising finfish under controlled conditions, in exposed, high-energy ocean environments.  It is distinct from the traditional practice of small scale aquaculture, which raises a limited number of multiple marine species in nearshore fishponds.

On October 23, 2009, the Land Board granted a Conservation District Use Permit (CDUP) to Hawaii Ocean Technology, Inc. so that it can experiment with a new OOA technology.  If it works, HOT, Inc. will make millions (maybe even billions).  If it doesn’t, HOT, Inc., will walk away and we, the public, will be left with whatever harm their botched experiment causes: impaired water quality, harm to the ocean ecosystem, fish disease, escaped fish, affects of genetically modified material in the ocean, damage from rogue cages…. the list of risks is long.

The loss of public trust ocean resources is a less obvious, but equally long-lasting harm to our oceans.

The CDUP approved last month grants HOT, Inc. an exclusive right to use 250 acres of ocean for their caged fish experiments forever.  This means that HOT, Inc. can deny people access to the area, stop them from fishing, harvesting, or boating in the area — kind of like the way “entrepreneurs” came to Hawaii, fenced up open forest land, and “experimented” with raising cows.  We all know what *that* experiment did to Hawaii.

Indeed, OOA-proponents seek to “farm the sea as we farm the land, thereby using the vast ocean resource more effectively than is the case presently,” said John Forster in Open Ocean Aquaculture–Moving Forward.  It appears he means “effectively” in the “exploit it better and faster” sense of the word.

Is the maze of fences decorated with “no trespassing” signs over every inch of land the future we want for our oceans?  That is exactly what we are going to get if this trend is allowed to continue.  As outlined in its Ocean Resources Management Plan, the state wants at least 10 OOA ventures in Hawaiian waters.  This HOT, Inc. project is the third to come online, and the existing two are already seeking similar privileges to limit public access to the ocean around their cages.

The ocean is a collective resource.  A fisherman fishes the sea, but lays no claim to the sea itself or the fish, for that matter. Erecting massive industrial commercial fish farms in the place where fish once swam wild will not save our ocean from the brink of catastrophe. It will push it closer.

We need to stop this mahele of our ocean. Instead, we need to better regulate the commercial (that is exploitive) use of our oceans.  We have to enforce the “take what you need and only what you need” mantra of traditional resource management systems that ensured that everyone was fed and the resources endured for generations to come.  At same time, we need to better support community-based loko ia, the small-scale nearshore fishponds that not only restore natural ecosystems, but help to provide fish for everyone to eat.

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