Ethnocentric Fishing Practices Threaten Hawaiian Communities

By Kanya D'Almeida
Inter Press Service
As the world gears up to celebrate the International Day of the World's Indigenous People on Aug. 9, a joint lawsuit filed Wednesday in Hawaii's Federal District Court against the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reveals the interconnectedness of environmental destruction and violations of native people's rights.

WASHINGTON, Aug 4, 2011 (IPS) - As the world gears up to celebrate the International Day of the World's Indigenous People on Aug. 9, a joint lawsuit filed Wednesday in Hawaii's Federal District Court against the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reveals the interconnectedness of environmental destruction and violations of native people's rights.

Filed by the Hawaiian Environmental Alliance (KAHEA), in conjunction with the national consumer advocacy group Food and Water Watch (FWW), the suit challenges a "fishing gear" permit issued to Kona Blue Water Farms, by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), for its open aquaculture "aquapods" stationed in the Alenuihaha Channel, off the west coast of the Big Island. 

According to a detailed report by FWW entitled "The Empty Promise of Ocean Aquaculture in Hawaii', "open-water aquaculture is the mass production of fish using floating net pens or cages in the ocean, similar to the concentrated animal feedlots on land for hogs and chickens." 

Kona's "aquapods" – large brass cages composed of meshed netting stocked with 2,000 small fish, which grow to harvest sizes of six to eight pounds – are tethered to sailboats and allowed to free float in the ocean just below surface level. 

Drifting in eddies off the Channel, sometimes in two-mile deep water, the aquapods can be anywhere between three to 150 miles offshore. 

"We expect that this experiment will have no discernible footprints at all," Kelly Coleman, a media spokesperson for Kona Blue, told IPS. "We are doing this to help promote sustainable aquaculture." 

Far from being convinced, the plaintiffs and members of the local community are indignant and outraged. 

"This is the first ever commercial aquaculture permit for an aquaculture facility in federal waters," Zach Corrigan, senior staff attorney and acting fish programme director of FWW, told IPS. 

"We're taking this to court because we don't believe that the federal government, namely the NMFS, has the authority to issue this permit," he said. 

KAHEA sees the permit as a "misapplication of commercial fishing regulations to industrial aquaculture activities". 

"Industrial aquaculture is not 'fishing gear' by any stretch of the imagination," Marti Townsend, a spokesperson for the Hawaiian watchdog group, said in a press release issued Wednesday. 

She added that existing federal law required authorisation under the regional Fishery Management Plan before issuance of a fishing permit, which the defendants did not secure. 

The complaint further states that the defendants "acted outside of their authority and arbitrarily and capriciously in issuing it." 

Hazard to local ecosystems, communities

The defendants are also charged with refusing to issue a comprehensive assessment of the environmental impacts of the aquaculture venture on marine ecosystems. 

Back in March, when the government acknowledged that Kona Blue's project could "affect several threatened or endangered species", the project was framed as "small scale", even though the permit signed over 7,200 square miles of federal waters to Kona Blue's floating fish farms. 

Federal agencies and Kona Blue have consistently referred to the ocean area off the Big Island's west coast as "remote", when in fact it is home to 462 licensed, commercial and subsistence fishermen, many of them native Hawaiians. 

"Kona claims they are going to avoid existing fishing areas through complex satellite technology and geographical information systems," Corrigan told IPS, "but what they fail to realise is that local fishing areas don't show up in high-tech searches." 

"This puts the onus almost entirely on local fisherman to stay clear of the area, a consequence that should have [at least] been the subject of a public hearing," he added. 

KAHEA, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of its members in the local community, blasted Kona Blue's practices as ethnocentric and highly disrespectful of ancient and traditional forms of fishing that are still very much alive on the Big Island. 

"It's offensive to Hawaiians to raise fish in this monoculture style, when they have a strong tradition of aquaculture using fish ponds close to shore that house multiple species of herbivore fish, essentially creating a microcosm of the overall ocean's ecosystem," Townsend told IPS. 

"Since these ponds are built at the mouths of fresh water streams, the fish are far less susceptible to diseases. Kona's cages strip the fish of access to fresh water, so they are then forced to use antibiotics to treat the inevitable diseases that spring from these artificial conditions," she added. 

Townsend stressed that KAHEA was also concerned about the impacts of soybean feed on water quality, and the dangers of introducing chemical treatments and antibiotics into the ocean.

"It's bad policy to experiment in such a large area, especially when lessons learned from commercial aquaculture ventures in places like Thailand or Canada – which have caused serious problems with water quality and wild fish stocks – give us good reason to worry," she said. 

Kale Gumapac, Alaka'i for the Kanaka Council Moku O Keawe, expressed deep sadness with the industrialisation of fishing and warned that Kona Blue's practices presented a grave threat to the centuries-old practices of Na Po'e Kanaka, or native Hawaiian people. 

"Kona Blue sells its aquaculture venture as 'sustainable', but how can this be true when it is costing tax payers huge amounts of money and eating up large chunks of federal government funds?" Gumapac asked IPS, referring to the 3.3 million dollars in public subsidies that the company has benefitted from – directly or indirectly – thus far. 

statement issued by the Kanaka Council outlining the dire implications of Kona Blue's practices include the disruption of gathering rights on ancient fishing grounds; a breach of religious freedom, particularly the slaughter of a 16-foot tiger shark in 2005, one of the most sacred creatures in Hawaiian culture; environmental damage wrought by the injection of land-based grains and chicken protein into the ocean; and encroachment onto Hawaiian land. 

"History shows that our rights were and continue to be protected by the Hawaiian Kingdom's Declaration of Rights in 1839," the Council wrote in its statement. "These rights were not limited to the land, but included the ocean." 

"We support this lawsuit, and hope to see an end to the serious infringement of traditional cultural, religious and economic rights of our people," Gumapac told IPS. 


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