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11 • 30 • 2022

Surfrider Foundation Challenges Shrimp Farm Pollution in Kauaʻi

By Angela Howe

While the Kauaʻi Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation has a strong history of using science, policy and law to fight for clean water on the beautiful Hawaiian island, the current campaign challenging shrimp farm pollution is one of the most pressing efforts to defend water quality, public health, and a clean environment in the coastal region of the Mānā Plain. There are concerns that operations of Sunrise Capital Shrimp Farm (also known as “Kauaʻi Shrimp”) lead to the flow of dead fish and pollution through canals to the ocean where swimmers and surfers are impacted by the impaired waters.  Surfrider Foundation has issued a challenge to the Sunrise Shrimp Farm’s renewal of their National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (“NPDES”) permit through extensive comments and a call for a public hearing on the matter.

The Kauaʻi Chapter is challenging the draft permit renewal for the shrimp farm operations due to the public health and safety concerns, including a terrible smell emanating into the area surrounding the shrimp farm. The Hawaii Department of Health (“DOH”) draft permit would allow the shrimp farm to increase their wastewater discharge into the ocean from 5 million gallons per day up to 20 million gallons per day along the Kekaha coastline and the stretch of beach that runs along the Pacific Missile Range Facility and Barking Sands Beach. This expansion would lead to greater discharges of pollutants and vibrio bacteria that thrives in ocean and brackish water and can be very harmful to humans, fish and coral. The DOH has stated that it does not have water quality testing criteria for vibrio and refuses to regulate it in the draft permit. The proposed permit also lacks meaningful measures to prevent fish kill incidents. This particular shrimp farm has been associated with a number of fish kill incidents over the past several years. While there are permit notification and cleanup requirements for fish kills, the permit is sorely lacking in prevention measures. In the comment letter, Surfrider also points out that unlined sedimentation canals allow pollution to seep into nearshore areas.  Finally, the proposed permit lacks sufficient ocean pollution monitoring and timely environmental assessment of the project.  

Surfrider Kauaʻi Chapter has a storied history of litigation efforts to protect the island’s entire west coast shoreline through challenges to three different but related NPDES permits. First, Surfrider Foundation sued the Agribusiness Development Corporation (“ADC”) in 2016 for failure to renew its NPDES permit and the related unregulated harmful discharge of pesticide contamination and other pollutants into the nearshore ocean waters of west Kaua‘i, including Barking Sands Beach. ADC is a state agency that operates a drainage ditch system that funnels millions of gallons of polluted water into the ocean near Kekaha and Waimea.  Surfrider’s 2016 lawsuit against the Agribusiness Development Corporation (“ADC”), was successfully settled in December 2019; however, the coalition is still monitoring the necessary permitting process for these discharges and required water quality monitoring by ADC. Second, Surfrider Foundation filed suit, along with Pesticide Action Network and environmental justice group Nā Kiaʻi Kai, as represented by Earthjustice, against the County of Kauaʻi for their ownership of part of the drainage ditch system of the Mānā Plain that feeds into the Kapilimao Watershed and Kekaha’s Kīkīaola Harbor.  The complaint was filed against the County and Hawaii Department of Health in July of this year and is in active litigation to require the NPDES permit that the ADC case summary judgment ruling stated was required for this area.  Relatedly, the current Sunrise Shrimp Farm permit draft has now been challenged by the Chapter through the extensive comments and call for public hearing, as described above.  Surfrider Foundation and our community partners eagerly await a DOH response to our call for a public hearing and the opportunity to further advocate for critical water quality safeguards.

“The Surfrider Foundation Kauaʻi Chapter has long been dedicated to addressing the many sources of pollution that impact the islandʻs nearshore waters,” says Surfrider Hawaii Regional Manager Lauren Blickley. “It’s not an easy task and much of their work goes unnoticed. But their vigilance and expertise in water quality issues has helped secure cleaner, safer waters for the island community.”