Take Action to Protect Water Quality before Nov. 19

Lee Future supports The Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation’s message urging residents to oppose an aquaculture facility proposed in the Gulf of Mexico. This project has the potential to impact water quality and native fish stocks. It would be the first aquaculture facility permitted in waters off the continental United States. The deadline for comments is November 19, 2020.

Originally published by the SCCF

Ocean Era Inc.─ a Hawaii-based corporation, formerly known as Kampachi Farms, is proposing an aquaculture pilot project 45 miles off the coast of Sarasota. The goal of this project is to assess the prospects and efficacy of aquaculture in U.S. waters. SCCF is not opposed to aquaculture in general; however, we do 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, require heavy doses of antibiotics and other chemicals to maintain fish health, and farmed populations are low in 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.  

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 Islands of Sanibel and 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 can enhance and/or prolong bloom events. Southwest Florida communities cannot afford another year like 2018. The State of Florida and the federal government should be working together to reduce and eliminate nutrient loading to our coastal waters, not authorizing new projects that will contribute new sources of nutrients in areas where red tide blooms most often occur.

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 pathogen outside of the fish pens, antibiotic resistance, and potential impacts to the genetic diversity of native stocks if the fish pens are damaged during a storm event and the fish escape. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) issued a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Permit for the project on Sept. 30, 2020. SCCF and the 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 ─many of which were in opposition, 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. The Corps will be accepting comments on this project until November 19, 2020. This will be your last opportunity to provide comments on this project.

Thank you for taking action!

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