Reel Time: “Fish farm” proposal troubling

On Tuesday, Jan. 28, I attended an EPA public comment session at Mote Marine Laboratory. The hearing gave the public an opportunity to speak to a proposed draft permit to test the raising of almaco jacks in a pen anchored in 140 feet of water off the coast of Sarasota.

Kampachi Farm LLC’s project, known as Velella Epsilon, would be the first of its kind in the nearshore Gulf waters. I stayed late to listen to the comments that included close to 70 speakers, each having three minutes to express their opinion. The vast majority spoke against the project, most passionately. Of those that spoke in favor, the majority had an interest in the project, most financially. I too spoke, not against aquaculture in general (although I have some problems here as well) but specifically to locating this project in an area that experiences major harmful algae blooms.

Reel Time
Citizens prepare to address EPA officials presiding over the public comment session at Mote’s WAVE Center. – Rusty Chinnis | Sun

Most of the speakers had similar issues, expressing their skepticism that an operation that concentrates fish (up to 20,000) and the associated waste generated would even be considered in such an area. Then there is the use of antibiotics and other potential issues that might develop with the interaction of farm and native species as well as hurricanes. The operations that feature the technology being considered are generally deployed in ocean waters hundreds of feet deep with better circulation patterns and even those have a spotty environmental record. This one would be in only 140 feet.

By far most objections centered around the possibility that red tide blooms might be exacerbated by the operation. Many also pointed to the fact that, if approved, the technique could be deployed at scale creating even more and larger operations. Most who spoke seemed incredulous that this kind of operation would even be considered given the insults the Gulf has already experienced and experiences on a regular basis such as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and the Dead Zone at the mouth of the Mississippi River.

Given that it’s possible to do this kind of farming in land-based, closed systems where water is filtered and reused, it seems that this is not a good option. Then there’s the issue of how this is being handled and the review process itself. Justin Bloom of Suncoast Waterkeeper gave a compelling presentation about the legal as well as environmental ramifications surrounding the EPA process and how it’s not being given the review it deserves.

It will be interesting to see how this develops as I’ve heard people state that the project is a “done deal” and the state and the EPA are just going through the motions with the hearings. I can tell you from my experience that the people who cared enough to be there and comment were overwhelmingly against the project. Those of us who live, work and play in and on Suncoast waters should be aware of this and other potential threats to the Gulf and Bay. The outcome will affect the waters that provide us recreational opportunities and enrich our lives, but also our livelihoods, whether we are waterfront restaurant owners or carpenters driving nails in Lakewood Ranch.

Then there’s the biggest question of all, what are we leaving our children and future generations?