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Oppose harmful aquaculture operation in Gulf of Mexico

By SANIBEL-CAPTIVA CONSERVATION FOUNDATION - | Nov 17, 2020

SCCF

Your voice is needed to oppose an aquaculture facility proposed in the Gulf of Mexico. The project has the potential to impact water quality and native fish stocks.

Ocean Era Inc., a Hawaii-based corporation that is formerly known as Kampachi Farms, is proposing an aquaculture pilot project 45 miles off the coast of Sarasota. The Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation is not opposed to aquaculture in general; however, we have major concerns regarding this project and the potential environmental, ecological and economic impacts that it may have on the coastal waters and communities of Southwest Florida.

Aquaculture facilities are intensive operations that generate large amounts of nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) and waste products, they require heavy doses of antibiotics and other chemicals to maintain the health of the fish, and farmed populations are of low genetic diversity. SCCF’s scientists have significant concerns that this project will impact water quality in an area of the Gulf prone to red tide and other harmful algal blooms, and the operation has the potential to impact native fish stocks.

Southwest Florida communities cannot afford another year like 2018. In 2018, Southwest Florida experienced one of the worst red tide events in recorded history. The city of Sanibel removed more than 850,000 pounds of dead marine life from Sanibel’s beaches. The Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce reported economic losses of more than $47 million from July to December related to tourism, real estate and recreational fishing.

A lot is still unknown about the organism that causes Florida red tides (Karenia brevis), but recent research suggests that excess nitrogen and phosphorus in the waters where red tide blooms occur may enhance and/or prolong bloom events. Florida and the federal government should be working together to reduce and eliminate nutrient loading to our coastal waters, not authorizing projects that will feed red tide blooms.

Nutrient impacts are not the only concern related to aquaculture facilities in the Gulf. The fish used in these facilities are generally of low genetic diversity and require antibiotics and other chemicals to maintain large numbers of fish in confined cages. This can impact native fish stocks through the transfer of pathogens outside of the fish pens, antibiotic resistance and potential impacts to the genetic diversity of native stocks if the fish pens are damaged during storm events and fish escape.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permit for the project on Sept. 30. The SCCF and city of Sanibel, along with numerous environmental groups, commercial fisherman and local governments located on the Gulf coast, submitted letters to the USEPA opposing the project. Despite great opposition to this harmful project, with more than 44,550 written comments submitted, the USEPA moved forward with issuing the permit.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is currently reviewing a permit under Section 10 of the River and Harbors Act for the pilot aquaculture project. The Corps is accepting comments on the project until Nov. 19. It will be your last opportunity to provide comments.

Take action by visiting https://p2a.co/DVwoLMu or using your mobile device text “aquaculture” to 52886 to submit your comments before Nov. 19 to let the Army Corps know that you oppose this project.

Founded in 1967, the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation is dedicated to the conservation of coastal habitats and aquatic resources on Sanibel and Captiva and in the surrounding watershed. For more information, visit www.sccf.org.