SARASOTA — A proposed fish farm, called the Velella Epsilon Project, that would be anchored in federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico, 45 miles west of Sarasota Bay and slightly south, is under review.
The farm would raise up to 20,000 Almaco jack fingerlings over a 12-14 month period in a “single-net pen aquaculture system.”
The pen would be 20 feet high and 50 feet across. It would be submergeable to about 20 feet to avoid storms.
The operation is expected to yield roughly 17,000 fish at a weight of 4.4 pounds each.
The fingerlings would be sourced from brood stock located at Mote Aquaculture Research Park and caught in the Gulf near Madeira Beach, according to a draft U.S. EPA environmental assessment.
The EPA Region 4 announced in December it will conduct a special public hearing on a draft pollutant discharge permit for Kampachi Farms, of Kailua-Kona in Hawaii, on Jan. 28, from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. at Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium’s WAVE Center, 1600 Ken Thompson Parkway, in Sarasota.
Commercially expanding aquaculture in the Gulf has been an arduous permitting process, according to Neil Anthony Sims, CEO of Kampachi Farms.
“The primary goal of the demonstration project is to help the local communities in the Gulf of Mexico to understand the ancillary benefits that offshore aquaculture can bring to fisheries and to recreational tourism,” he said on the Kampachi Farms website.
Kampachi Farms has applied for permits from multiple federal agencies.
The project estimates a maximum annual production of 88,000 pounds, close to the threshold of 100,000 pounds for meeting more stringent Clean Water Act requirements.
The Velella Epsilon net-pen aquaculture pilot project has been in the development stage for well over a year following federal legislation allowing fish farming in the Gulf. In 2016, NOAA Fisheries finalized a rule that would allow commercial aquaculture operations in the Gulf.
Supporters say opening up U.S. waters to fish farming could help meet the country’s demand for seafood.
Opponents say there are all sorts of known and unknown dangers involved in fish farming, such as polluting the ocean and putting local fishermen out of work.
Director Jessica McCawley, of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said in a letter dated Feb. 18, 2019, to the EPA that the pilot program application is consistent with FWC rules.
She did raise concerns, however.
“While the analysis … does identify what steps (the project) is taking to avoid genetic impacts to Florida’s coastal fishery resources (e.g., using native brood stock that are not genetically engineered, only using first-generation offspring), the analysis does not address the mating ratios and cohort sizes, which could also affect the genetics of Florida’s coastal fishery resources,” McCawley wrote.
That should be remedied in the application, she said.