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Fish farm planned for Gulf is under pressure to show it won’t harm environment

A fish farm is under the microscope due to concerns it could fuel red tide.

But the aquaculture industry fish farm is trying to fill the need for global food.

“When we look at the overall need for more seafood, globally, but then also in the U.S., because the US at the moment is dependent on importing,” said Neil Anthony Sims, founder and CEO of Ocean Era, Inc.

Ocean Era hopes to deploy a fish farm project about 45 miles offshore in the Gulf, northwest of Charlotte County.

“The Velella Epsilon project is a single small demonstration net pen that will be stocked with one cohort of fish, only about 20,000 fish. That’s about 1% of what a commercial fish farm size would be,” Sims said.

While the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation is typically not opposed to aquaculture, Ocean Era’s project raises a red flag.

“We’re concerned that this project being located within that area where red tide is commonplace, that it could provide nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus that can feed red tide blooms, and result in more frequent red tide blooms and more intense red tide blooms that could impact our communities,” said James Evans, environmental policy director for the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation.

This is happening as the Environmental Protection Agency is taking another look to make sure the farm meets water quality standards.

But, Sims believes his company meets that and points to his fish farm in Hawaii.

“It’s been producing around 500 tons a year for the last 15 years and with very intense monitoring around the water quality,” Sim said.  “If there’d been any impact on the coral reefs directly, ensure we would have heard about it from the Kona diving community. They would be kicking and screaming.”

The EPA’s report is due by June 1.

After the required permitting is in place, Sims said it would take five or six months to deploy the net and stock it with fish.

Reporter:Stephanie Byrne
Writer:Melissa Montoya
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