Surfrider seeks hearing on shrimp farm permit

KEKAHA — Kaua‘i Shrimp, the island’s only shrimp farm, is seeking a new pollutant permit, which is raising concern from some environmentalists.

The proposed Hawai‘i Department of Health-issued National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit would allow Kaua‘i Shrimp to discharge certain pollutants within certain parameters while complying with the federal Clean Water Act. It would not be the first five-year NPDES permit acquired by the farm, but Kaua‘i Surfrider members say this new permit is less stringent than previous iterations.

“They shouldn’t have a renewal of a permit, because it didn’t effectively stop the pollution for the past five years,” Surfrider Senior Scientist Carl Berg said, referring to claims of dead fish flowing from Kaua‘i Shrimp property into state-owned ditches, and ultimately the Pacific Ocean.

The owner of Kaua‘i Shrimp, Sunrise Capital, Inc., did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Gordon LaBedz, a founding member of the national Surfrider Foundation, lives in Kekaha.

“The dead fish build up in their tanks and ditches when they are released on the beach, the ocean turns brown and stinks to high heaven,” he said. “It is a wintertime surfing area and sometimes the discharge can blind sharks who will get confused and potentially bite a human by accident.”

Berg told The Garden Island that testing waterways to ensure permit compliance is outside Surfrider’s purview, but in this case, such methods are not required.

“When you have a massive fish kill, we don’t need quantitative chemistry and we don’t need a bacteria test. Those are secondary to the elephant — the dead fish,” he said. “So, I don’t need to take a little bottle of water and measure how much nitrate or something is in there when, in fact, the real pollutant is dead fish and all the rotting and bacteria. When they rot, they release all of the nitrates.”

The Kaua‘i Shrimp website describes the farm as sustainable, citing use of an aerobic water treatment and recycling system and live clams and tilapia to reduce the “organic load” of discharged shrimp-pondwater. Kaua‘i Shrimp also claims its discharge, “strictly monitored by a third-party laboratory,” has never been found in violation of effluent criteria.

The Department of Health issued a public notice announcing its permit proposal on Sept. 29. According to Berg, the notice engendered a flurry of emails to Surfrider from “environment-minded people” across Kaua‘i.

Now, Surfrider is encouraging residents to write the DOH to demand a public hearing on the proposed permit, in order to raise its concerns and gauge the level of community interest in the shrimp farm’s activity.

Berg argued residents are more likely to discuss issues they care about in a public forum, rather than via letter or email.

“We’re trying to get as many community members as possible out there to let us know what they feel,” he said. “So, if only one or two people are concerned about it, do we really have to go through this whole public hearing thing? But the idea of a public hearing is so that the Department of Health hears what the public has to say.”

Opportunity for public comment on the proposed NPDES permit closes Friday, Oct. 29. The permit can be viewed online at, under the “public notices and updates” tab. A hearing on the permit may be held if DOH determines there is significant public interest, according to the Sept. 29 notice.


Scott Yunker, reporter, can be reached at 245-0437 or

  1. nobody October 26, 2021 7:01 am Reply

    The shrimp farms are making profits and polluting our beaches. Really wrong. Who gave them the permit in the first place? Hopefully this brings attention to the other pumping polluting Kinikini and Nohili beaches.

  2. nobody October 26, 2021 7:12 am Reply

    The shrimp farms are making profits and polluting our beaches. Really wrong. Who gave them the permit in the first place? Hopefully this brings attention to the other pumping polluting Kinikini, Nohili, 1st Ditch, 2nd Ditch, and more. Look on Google Earth, please. Kinikini ditch is taking the shrimp farm pollutants to the ocean. You need to look!!! Google Earth.

  3. Ken Hughes October 26, 2021 7:31 am Reply

    I was unable to find the permit at the link provided. I’ve emailed the Clean Water Branch requesting a link to the proposed permit.

  4. Ken Hughes October 26, 2021 7:34 am Reply

    The pending permit was on Google Drive for Sunrise Capital:

  5. Nadya October 26, 2021 8:23 am Reply

    There is so much talk of self sufficiency and growing our own food. So, we are supposed to import shrimp now, as well?

  6. LMat October 26, 2021 8:38 am Reply

    Would Carl, Gordon, and the rest of the members of Surfrider prefer Kauai to sink even further into unsustainability…? As the island’s only shrimp farm, I would hate to see some people’s actions do anything to harm or impede their successful operation. Lifelong resident of Kekaha right here, and most of us born-and-raised, lifelong residents appreciate the ag and farming businesses on the Westside. Of course, safe and responsible operation is paramount, and it sounds like Kauai Shrimp is doing their due diligence.

  7. hieronymus October 26, 2021 12:05 pm Reply

    The tilapia have been drying in first and second ditch for decades. I do not think the shrimp farm can be the sole culprit.
    These environmentalists with have you chasing your tails if you let them.
    Let the farmers farm.

  8. Lorraine October 26, 2021 3:59 pm Reply

    I was unable to post a comment using the link provided. I contacted the DOH by phone and they couldn’t locate it either. They are digging deeper and say they will get back to me. I hope the period of time allotted for comments is extended accordingly.

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