Hawai’i aquaculturists push for sector support amid sales growth
October 13, 2023
By Aquaculture North America staff
For the second consecutive year, Hawaiʻi achieved significant heights in aquaculture, yet local industry maintains that its full potential remains largely unexplored.
According to a report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), in 2022, local aquaculture sales were US$89.6 million, up from US$80 million in sales in 2021.
Hawaii Public Radio reported that aquaculture was the state’s second most valuable agricultural commodity behind seed crop sales with the USDA’s latest report estimating Hawaiʻi’s seed industry at US$114 million for the 2022-2023 season.
The state is working on the sector’s current momentum.
“This is a moment when we could be catalyzing a lot of growth in agriculture technology and aquaculture technology to really become a leader in the space of producing food in a more sustainable way,” said Neil Sims, co-founder of the Hawaiʻi-based mariculture company, Ocean Era. “Here we are in the most isolated archipelago on the planet, and yet we import over 65 per cent of the seafood that we eat.”
The two promising areas are algae cultivation and off-shore fish farming.
Algae already plays a big role in local aquaculture but Todd Low, manager for the state department of Agriculture’s Aquaculture Development Program, said more can be done with algae.
“The growth in algae we saw in 2022 is an indicator of the potential in that sector. The opportunities for indigenous macroalgae or seaweed production are focused in two areas,” Low said. “First, the development for additives to improve livestock feeds, and … initiatives to harness the ecosystem services provided by seaweeds as filters and carbon sinks.”
There is only one commercial operation of off-shore fish farms in the U.S., and Sims is hoping to construct another one about two miles from Ewa Beach on Oʻahu.
The aquaculture experts said they need more support, especially from Hawaiʻi government agencies and lawmakers for growth.
“We need legislative support to identify and address leasing and investment roadblocks, and statutes and rules. We need the various departments that are involved in various elements of permitting and oversight of aquaculture to coordinate and to communicate,” said Ron Weidenbach, who co-runs Hawaiʻi Fish Company with his wife, at the Thrive Hawaiʻi Agrifood Summit (Sept. 26-27).
Sims endorses a legislation proposing tax credits for aquaculture technologies, drawing a parallel to the 2001 state law Act 221, which was designed to foster the expansion and advancement of high-technology sectors.
“While that program is much maligned because a lot of people thought that it didn’t achieve the benefits that it did, I think if something like that — a tax credit program that encouraged additional investment from the continental U.S. — that was focused on ag and aquaculture and high technologies that could be applicable to these industries, something such as that would be tremendously beneficial,” Sims said.
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