Kanaloa Octopus Farm in West Hawaiʻi receives cease and desist letter from state
February 4, 2023, 4:00 AM HST
* Updated February 4, 11:34 PM
After receiving complaints that an aquaculture research facility in West Hawaiʻi was in possession and breeding the Day Octopus — a regulated aquatic life species — without the required permits, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources issued a cease and desist letter.
Last month, Kanaloa Octopus Farm was sent the letter, which said the state’s Division of Aquatic Resources learned the facility “is propagating Octopus cyanea and attempting to rear juvenile individuals.”
Cease and Desist Letter to Kanaloa Octopus Farm by Tiffany De Masters on Scribd
Without a permit, even the temporary possession of Octopus cyanea specimens less than one pound in weight (including newly hatched larvae) is unlawful.
Kanaloa Octopus Farm, a facility that opened in 2015 and focuses on the research and public education of octopuses, is located at Keahole Point — the westernmost tip of the Big Island — by Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport. The farm is in the state-owned Hawaiʻi Ocean Science and Technology Park’s research campus at Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaiʻi Authority.
The farm, a 4,000 square-foot wet lab, also is a tourist attraction. Before it was shut down, the staff at the outdoor facility gave tours and allowed visitors to put their hands (only wrist deep) into the tanks to interact with the octopuses. Underwater cameras also were allowed in the tanks, but “if the octopus reaches out to grab your camera, please remove it from their grasp,” stated the rules on the website.
Currently, the farm has 20 octopuses in its care.
Jake Conroy, owner of Kanaloa Octopus Farm, said: “Our goal is to study octopus reproduction to allow the animals to be bred in captivity.
“I think octopus are beautiful and fascinating creatures. I also love the challenge of figuring out their reproductive cycle so we can breed them in captivity. I believe this technology will be a powerful tool for conservationists.”
According to the Jan. 6 letter, there is no record of Kanaloa Octopus Farm having ever applied or been granted an Aquaculture License or a Special Activity Permit for the possession/rearing of Octopus cyanea.
If secured, a Special Activity Permit would allow the farm to “take [or possess] aquatic life…otherwise prohibited by law… for scientific, educational, management or propagation purposes.”
In the letter, the Division of Aquatic Resources told the farm to immediately stop any unpermitted activities, including the disposal of any illegally held specimens, and apply for the relevant permits and licenses.
If the division receives further reports of unlawful practices at Kanaloa, the state said it intends to enforce its rules against violators to the fullest extent permitted by law.
On the Kanaloa Octopus Farm website it announces the facility is currently closed to the public. Conroy said he is working with the Division of Aquatic Resources to ensure they are in full compliance with state regulations.
“We take seriously our commitment to follow all regulations regarding research and humane treatment of the cephalopods in our care,” he said.
According to Hawaii Administrative Rules, it is unlawful to possess the Day Octopus, or he‘e, that weighs less than one pound. It is also illegal to take Octopus cyanea for aquarium purposes — including aquaculture purposes — from within the West Hawaiʻi Regional Fishery Management Area without a West Hawaiʻi aquarium permit.
According to complaints received by the Division of Aquatic Resources, the farm had in its care octopuses unlawfully removed from the management area, which extends along the west coast of the Island of Hawaiʻi from Ka Lae, Ka‘ū (South Point) to ‘Upolu Point, North Kohala and from the high-water mark on shore seaward to the limit of the state’s management authority, which extends to 3 miles offshore.
The state hasn’t issued any aquarium permits for this management area since at least Jan. 5, 2018, after the state Supreme Court unanimously ordered a stop to commercial collection of aquarium fish in Hawaiʻi pending an environmental review.
Earlier this week, Hawaiʻi Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey P. Crabtree lifted the injunction that prohibited the issuance or renewal of aquarium fish permits to commercial collectors in this management area, although the injunction remains for the rest of the state.
Conroy said most of the octopuses at the facility came from local fishermen who would otherwise sell them for use as bait.
“Our octopuses are typically injured animals that others don’t want,” Conroy said. “We feed them and care for them, allowing them to recover.”
He said the farm does not catch octopuses and does not release them back into the wild.
“As animal lovers, we care deeply for the octopuses in our facility,” Conroy said. “We rotate our octopus between 100-gallon tanks and larger tanks to vary their environment. As researchers, we need our octopuses to be healthy and well cared for so we can study them effectively.”
Most of the work done at the farm is plankton research focused on what food newly hatched octopuses eat during their first 30 days of life. Figuring out what they eat, Conroy said, is key to being able to breed them in captivity.
The adult octopuses at the farm are monitored and tanks are regularly cleaned.
While she didn’t actually make a complaint against Kanaloa with the Department of Land and Natural Resources, animal activist Laura Lee Cascada expressed her concern about the farm in her blog, The Every Animal Project, after her visit last October.
During the visit, Cascada said the employees at the facility painted the farm as a fun tourist attraction with an emphasis on conservation of octopuses through understanding the reproductive cycle.
If the farm were to successfully reproduce octopuses in captivity, Cascada said it could create a farming industry of cephalopods so people didn’t have to rely on freshly-caught octopus.
“It’s been a confusing and conflicting narrative,” Cascada said.
While she was shocked about the cease and desist letter, which she deemed a positive development, Cascada said she doesn’t think it will stop Kanaloa in its endeavors.
Conroy said the facility has no plans to breed large numbers of octopuses but is seeking to develop technology that will allow others to breed octopuses for future conservation efforts.
“Octopuses face threats from overfishing, loss of habitat and climate change,” he said. “Given these risks, we believe it is important to be able to breed these beautiful animals in captivity to prepare for a future when conservationists may need to repopulate coral reefs or provide octopus to aquariums instead of relying on wild-caught animals.”
In the past, Conroy made public statements about the potential of the farm connecting with the food industry. His feelings on that have since changed.
“As researchers we are constantly learning and following the data we gather,” he said. “Over time our thinking and the focus of our business has evolved. As we have learned more about the reproductive cycle of octopuses, we no longer believe they are good candidates for aquaculture for food production.”
Conroy explained it would be too expensive to raise the animals for food because they cannot be kept in large groups due to their aggressiveness toward each other.
“We have no plans to share our technology with food production facilities,” he said.
Conroy said he looks forward to continuing the facility’s mission of research and public education about the cephalopods.
He said: “We believe our organization can play an important role in the future of regenerative tourism in Hawai’i.”