Updated permitting process leads to Hawaiian aquarium growth

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources said fish pond restoration projects have grown since the launch of the new licensing process in 2015.

20 new aquarium restoration permits have been issued since the DLNR’s Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands launched the Simplified Application for Aquarium Repair and Restoration as part of the Hoʻala Loko Iʻa Program.

“We began issuing these new permits because we found that practitioners were caught in an endless cycle from which they were unable to extract themselves,” OCCL Director Michael Caine said in a statement. “There were 17 different federal, state, and county regulations that they needed to comply with, and it was nearly impossible to move around, resulting in very few required or approved permits over the course of several decades. The current permit system includes nearly all required state permits.”

Aquariums support local food production and ecosystem services such as flood mitigation and sediment retention.

One of the permitted aquariums is the largest on Kauai, the 40-acre Alakoko Fishpond, also known as the Menehune Fishpond. It is located on the Huleia River and is on private land owned and operated by the non-profit Malama Huleia. The non-profit organization was originally formed by a group of rowers who found mangrove forests taking over the fish pond and river.

“Alakoko has already been abandoned and bloated over the past several decades and the mangroves have been over-growing,” Sarah Bowen, executive director of the nonprofit, said in a statement. “We were able to work with OCCL to obtain a permit. That was only in the early stages of the new permitting process, which was being developed to help aquarium practitioners navigate the bureaucratic hoops of a range of different government regulatory agencies. Hoʻala Loko Iʻa gives practitioners the ability to submit a single permit and make Every agency reviews that one permit. It’s really a boon for organizations like ours.”

Governor David Ige said the program was strengthened when Act 230 was signed in 2015 to waive state Department of Health water quality certifications for aquariums allowed under the program.

“Through these and other programs, we are better managing our water resources and the inshore ocean waters that provide a home to wonderful marine life and are a vital cultural link to the past for Native Hawaiians,” Governor Ige said in a statement.

Malama Huleia has cleared 26 acres of mangroves in the fish pond so far.

“We were able to get to a rock wall about half a mile long, but we had to cut our way because the mangrove forests were so thick. You can’t tell how far away you were from the river or how far you were from the aquarium, it was so overgrown,” Bowen said in a statement. The situation is very different now.”

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