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Proposed aquaculture farm sparks controversy

By Kristen Consillio

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    HONOLULU (KITV) — Hawaii-based Ocean Era is hoping to begin operating a more than five million-dollar aquaculture farm next year.

Walter Ritte, the founder of ‘Aina Momona, a Native Hawaiian group advocating for environmental sustainability and food security, believes the commercial project will have negative impacts on the ocean, unlike traditional loko i’a, or fishponds.

“We’re really nervous about all of the dangers that are being presented by these people that are actually raising fish, not to just feed people but for profit,” Ritte said.

Ritte, who lives on Molokai, says he’s worried disease will be a major problem in a crowded aquaculture farm, leading to the use of antibiotics that could harm other fish in the sea.

“Whereas in a fishpond, we have, in order to curb diseases, we have predators…and the predators act like doctors, they go after the weakest of the animals and they don’t care what disease those animals have they take them out so our fishpond become disease-free in a natural way,” he said.

Ritte also argues the fish produced at the farm won’t be affordable for locals. He believes restoring traditional fishponds is the best way to expand Hawaii’s seafood industry, while protecting natural resources.

“For us to know what our future is going to be, we need to rely on what was successful that our ancestors did for thousands of years,” he said.

But Neil Sims, CEO of Ocean Era says it’s all about food security and sustainability.

“We need to remember that most of the seafood that we eat here in Hawaii is imported, that we need to learn how to grow our own seafood here. We can’t just keep taking from the ocean all the time,” he said.

He says the project aims to produce native species that are going to be more attractive to the local market, such as moi, nenue and a different species of limu, or seaweed, to help feed the fish.

“Nenue is a fish which is very prized in the Hawaiian and Pacific island cultures, it’s people really value that fish but most haoles don’t like it,” Sims said. “The nenue is not a fish that rich people are going to buy. It tastes like limu, it tastes like the ocean and rich people want to have fish that tastes like chicken.”

Sims says he doesn’t see his project as conflicting with traditional fishponds because it’s working toward the same goal.

In fact, he says Ocean Era supports the revitalization of loko i’a, and is donating nenue to fishponds on the Big Island and O’ahu and will eventually do the same on Molokai.

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