PERMITS AND REGULATORY REQUIREMENTS FOR AQUACULTURE IN HAWAIʻI
Please navigate this resource using the menu items found on the right side of your laptop, or at the top of your mobile device. The content in this guide has been organized into sections. Using this resource in the structured order is the most efficient way to use the guide.
This guide was created by the Department of Agriculture, its primary contact information can be found to the right of each page under the navigation menu, or at the top on a mobile device.
Please be aware that this is a robust guidebook, and some sections are longer than others. We recommend using a desktop or laptop to view this information if possible.
How to Use This Guide
This guide provides a general overview of the major laws, regulations, permits and permissions that are important for siting and operating a commercial aquaculture business in Hawaiʻi. Initial determination of the requirements for a particular site and technology is a critical first step in planning and anticipating the time and cost for compliance.
The guide can provide an aquaculture project with an initial understanding of the major regulatory requirements to secure an appropriate site, including the time and cost to go through the process. It is not a comprehensive document that is inclusive of all the potential permits necessary to site, start up and operate a commercial project, but is meant to be used as an introduction for a potential project group to work closely with the responsible agencies to meet regulatory requirements.
In order to effectively utilize this information, a project should be aware of the following key considerations in planning and evaluating the suitability of a potential site.
Before initially contacting permitting agencies and evaluating alternative sites, the aquaculture project must be able to describe the project in sufficient detail for the permitting agencies and other interested parties to understand the scope and impacts of the proposal. At a minimum, the following information should be available for discussion:
- Target species – Identify all the species being considered for production and determine if they are native or non-native (exotic) to Hawaiʻi. If they are non native, have they been imported into the state before (see Section 5.2.1 on Species Importation)?
- Proposed technology – Identify the type of production technology that will be utilized. Has it been utilized commercially in Hawaiʻi or elsewhere, or is it developmental? What are the water requirements for the technology, i.e., type (fresh, brackish, salt), temperature, volume, etc.? What is the proposed water source and what are the disposal options?
- Alternative sites – Ideally, the project would have one or several specific sites it is considering. Identify where the proposed sites are located and at its full build out how extensive an area will be needed by the project. Are there any environmentally sensitive areas on or near the site and in general what does the surrounding area look like, e.g., ownership, existing uses, etc.?
- Preliminary business plan – At this early stage of identifying a site, a full business plan is generally not possible. However, the project should be able to discuss the general business plan, such as the amount of production planned, any phased increases in production and where the product will be sold ,i.e., local market or export.
The Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism (DBEDT) maintains a statewide, online Geographic Information System (GIS) that will be extremely useful in compiling this initial physical site information. It contains a wide variety of digitized data organized under the general categories of: 1) Physical Features/Basemap Layers; 2) Political Boundaries/Administrative Layers; 3) Natural Resources/Environmental Layers; 4) Hazard Layers; and 5) Coastal/Marine Layers. It can be accessed at the following web site: [http://hawaii.gov/dbedt/gis/download.htm]. In particular, the following web site can be used to determine the ownership of parcels by large land owners and the state. In addition, lands classified as Agricultural Lands of Importance to the State, can be found at this web site: [http://hawaii.gov/dbedt/gis/miscmaps.htm]. Another useful site has a link to Tax Map Keys by island [http://hawaii.gov/dbedt/gis/links.htm].
State Level Zoning
State level zoning classifies the entire state into four land use district designations: 1) Urban (about 5 per cent of the state’s land area); 2) Agriculture (about 47 per cent); 3) Conservation (about 48 per cent); and 4) Rural (less than one per cent).
The Urban District includes lands currently in urban use and a reserve for foreseeable urban growth. Uses are permissive only, with the counties issuing permits for development through their ordinances or regulations. Aquaculture use is classified differently under each county’s ordinances.
The Agricultural District includes lands used for cultivation and grazing, as well as related uses. The permissible uses in this district are extensive and include aquaculture. Other uses require a special permit. Special permits are handled by the respective county for uses requiring less than 15 acres. Projects larger than 15 acres are handled by the State Land Use Commission.
The Conservation District includes a variety of uses, including:
“Protecting watershed…, preserving scenic and historic areas; providing park lands, wilderness and beach reserves; conserving endemic plants, fish, and wildlife; … forestry; open space areas whose existing openness, natural condition, or present state of use, it retained, would enhance the present or potential value of abutting or surrounding communities, or would maintain or enhance the conservation of natural or scenic resources, areas of value for recreational purposes; other related activities; and other permitted uses not detrimental to a multiple use conservation concept”(§205-2(e), HRS).
The Conservation District also includes large areas of shoreline lands, and most submerged offshore lands and outlying small islands out to the jurisdiction of the state (three nautical miles). Most remaining and recognizable traditional Hawaiian fishponds are also in this zone.
The Conservation District is broken down into four subzones: 1) Protective; 2) Limited; 3) Resource; and 4) General. Aquaculture is a permitted use by rule within the Resource and General subzones.
The Rural District consists primarily of small farms and rural subdivisions on Maui and Kauaʻi.
Maps depicting gross state level zoning by island are available online [http://hawaii.gov/dbedt/gis/slud.htm] or by contacting the Land Use Commission, Office of Planning, Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism (DBEDT).
Office of Planning, DBEDT
P.O. Box 2359
Honolulu, Hawaiʻi 96804-2359
Web site: http://hawaii.gov/dbedt/op/
County Level Zoning
All four counties of the state utilize a similar system for land use planning/zoning and execution of plans. It can be described as a three tiered structure:
- Tier 1: A general plan which is long-term and can describe such goals, policies, strategies, and courses of action for the entire county.
- Tier 2: Addresses the intermediate term through preparation of such documents as country-wide functional plans, specific community plans, development plans and other plans. These documents will usually have accompanying land use maps that can be useful in siting decisions.
- Tier 3: Are the most specific and most near-term actionable items; namely county zoning ordinances, regulations and budgets.
Most, if not all, of the counties make mention of aquaculture in these planning documents; however, it is beyond the scope of this guide to describe those specific mentions and projects are referred to the individual counties and documents to determine relevant information. In general, land zoned for agriculture would permit aquaculture uses, as statutorily the state considers aquaculture a form of agriculture use. In some instances, land zoned urban, e.g., residential and industrial, may be utilized for some forms of aquaculture production depending on the scale of the project and the technology used, e.g., backyard systems.
Critical to siting aquaculture within each county is the county-level land use zoning developed by each county planning department and there is a great deal of information on county web sites. The City and County of Honolulu and Hawaiʻi County have the most current zoning and land use information online at the following land use and GIS web sites:
City and County of Honolulu Web sites:
Hawaiʻi County Web site:
Hawaiʻi County lists a table on the web site (directly above) entitled Zoning Code Permissible Uses, that indicates that aquaculture is a permitted use in seven of the sixteen zoning code designations.
Both Maui County and Kauaʻi County are developing online GIS systems with much useful information. In regard to determining specific land use and zoning information for these counties, contact the respective planning departments and associated programs:
Maui County Web sites:
- http://www.co.maui.hi.us/index.aspx?NID=1123 (Zoning)
- https://www.mauicounty.gov/1141/GIS-Section (GIS Program)
- https://mapps.co.maui.hi.us/EnerGov_Prod/SelfService#/map (Land permit Map Viewer)
Kauaʻi County Web site:
The Hawaiʻi Coastal Zone Management Act, Chapter 205A, HRS, provides a regulatory framework for management of activities in the coastal zone and nearshore areas of all islands. The Coastal Zone Management Program (CZMP) involves the management of designated coastal areas termed Special Management Areas (SMA) and Shoreline Setback Areas (SSA) by the counties. In addition, the CZMP requires a review of federal permitting activities for consistency by of the Office of State Planning (OSP) (see Sections 4.3.3 and 4.3.4 on Coastal Zone Consistency Review , SMA, and Shoreline Setback Variance for details).
Prospective aquaculture projects should be aware if the facility is located in the SMA or SSA. SMAs are shoreline and coastal water related lands, inland from the “shoreline” (usually 300 ft.) which have been designated by individual counties. No development can occur within the SMA unless a permit is obtained from the county. Permits will be granted only if the development will not have substantial adverse impacts on the environment and is consistent with the State’s CZMP and the county general plan and zoning ordinances.
State statute also designates a Shoreline Setback from 20 to 40 feet landward from the shoreline (counties can extend the setback requirement further by ordinance). Construction or land disturbing activity is prohibited within the SSA unless a Shoreline Setback Variance (SSV) is obtained from the County.
To discuss the SMA and SSA boundaries and permitting for a specific site and view maps, contact the planning departments of the individual counties.
Hawaiʻi County Planning Department
- Phone: 808-961-8288
- Web site: https://www.planning.hawaiicounty.gov/resources/special-management-area-sma
Kauaʻi County Planning Department
- Phone: 808-241-6677
- Web site: http://www.kauai.gov/planning
Maui County Planning Department
- Phone: 808-270-7735
- Web site: http://www.co.maui.hi.us/index.aspx?NID=1354
City and County of Honolulu Department of Planning and Permitting
- Phone 808-768-8014
- Web site: http://www.honoluludpp.org/permitinfo/
Land areas identified as wetlands are environmentally sensitive areas of regulatory significance to all levels of government in Hawaiʻi. Wetlands are defined as areas that are inundated or saturated by surface or ground water at a frequency and duration sufficient to support, and under normal circumstances do support, a prevalence of vegetation typically adapted for life in saturated soil conditions. Wetlands provide many beneficial functions including: 1) flood water storage; 2) prevention of erosion; 3) sediment control; 4) critical wildlife habitat; 5) recreational opportunities; and 6) open space. These areas, and areas adjacent to them, can be suitable for aquaculture operations.
The primary federal agencies responsible for designation of wetlands and regulation of development are the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act (see Section on the 13 Department of the Army). State and county governments also regulate development in wetlands through the Coastal Zone Management Program (CZMP) and the Special Management Area (SMA) permits (see Sections on the CZMP and the SMA permits).
It behooves a prospective project to determine if a potential site has any designated wetlands on or near the area. Contacting the ACOE, Honolulu District, early in the site evaluation process is recommended. Also, the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) offers assistance for wetland determinations. In addition, the State GIS System has a layer for wetlands under the Natural Resource/Environmental Layers category that will be helpful.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Honolulu District
Web site: https://www.poh.usace.army.mil/Missions/Regulatory/Wetlands/
Pacific Islands Area, State Office
National Resources Conservation Service, USDA
Web site: http://www.pia.nrcs.usda.gov/technical/
State GIS System
Office of Planning Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism
Phone: 808 587-2846
Web site: http://hawaii.gov/dbedt/gis/download.htm
Land-based aquaculture can for the most part source water (fresh, brackish and salt water) in three basic ways: 1) wells; 2) surface water diversions; and 3) treated potable water from a public entity. (Note: catchment and reservoir/ditch sources are not considered). In evaluating a site, a prospective project must consider how production water will be obtained, the volumes available, and the quality of the source. The feasibility of sourcing adequate water will vary with location.
The Commission On Water Resources Management, DLNR, manages any man-made diversions from the streams of the state and is responsible for granting and administering well construction and pump installation permits statewide (see Sections on Well and Pump Permits). Aquaculturists must also be aware that certain islands have designated Water Management Areas that are hydrologic areas where water resources are being threatened by existing or proposed withdrawals or diversions of water, water quality problems, or serious 14 disputes. The Water Commission exerts strict administrative control over these areas through a Water Use permit system (see Section on Water Use Permit).
Specific sites and the feasibility of sourcing water should be discussed with Commission staff. The Commission has various plans, reports, and maps (e.g., the designated Water Management Areas) online that can assist in evaluating a site and more detailed information and maps on file at the office.
Aquaculture projects in residential areas may be able to use potable fresh water from public water supply entities, such as the Board of Water Supply on Oahu. Generally, this source is only economically feasible when the volume of use is relatively small (e.g., by using a backyard recirculating or aquaponic system) because of the cost of the water. In addition, in some areas water maybe treated with chemicals that make it not conducive to fish growth. Contacting the water provider to determine the feasibility of sourcing water is advisable early in the planning process.
Commission on Water Resource Management
Web site: http://hawaii.gov./dlnr/cwrm/sitemap.htm
Open ocean sites for sea cage aquaculture have unlimited amounts of sea water available by virtue of Hawaiʻi’s oceanographic conditions, such as waves and currents. Important considerations in locating an ocean site include: 1) water depth; 2) currents, 3) wind and wave patterns; and 4) multiple use issues. The ocean around Hawaiʻi has certain sensitive environmental areas (e.g., coral reefs) or public or military use areas and projects should become aware of these potential siting limitations.
Much information is available online describing the physical and use characteristics of state marine waters out to three nautical miles, for example:
- The State GIS system has a section entitled Coastal/Marine Layers which has extensive information on the location of such characteristics as: 1) anchorage areas; 2) body surfing sites; 3) coral reefs; 4) fish aggregating devices; 5) ocean recreation areas; 6) whale sanctuary boundaries, etc.
Web site: http://hawaii.gov/dbedt/gis/download.htm
- The State GIS system also has a section with useful links for evaluating ocean sites, such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA), National Ocean Service and Coastal Services Center and the U.S. Geological Survey.
Web site: http://hawaii.gov/dbedt/gis/links.htm
Potential projects are encouraged to use Internet searches and key words to find out the extent of the information available.
National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Permit and Zone of Mixing (ZOM)
Aquaculture operations that are sited on land and state marine waters have to evaluate each potential location for the options to dispose of farm effluents or waste water. Both land and ocean sites are subject to the NPDES and ZOM permit system to control entry of pollutants into the waters of the U.S. from point sources (see Section on the NPDES permit and ZOM for details). The permitting requirements are delegated by the federal government to the state Department of Health (DOH) for implementation.
All the waters for the state are classified into two categories, Inland and Marine, with more detailed classifications under each that are based on ecological and other natural characteristics, such as water depth (§11-54-2, HAR). Each category is further classified as to uses of the water for purposes of applying receiving water standards for certain parameters and for selection or definition of appropriate quality parameters and uses to be protected (see Chapter 11-54, HAR).
For marine waters, the classifications include sets of criteria for both the water column and the bottom. For example, criteria for the water column in marine waters include numerical measures that can’t be exceeded of: 1) Total Nitrogen; 2) Ammonia Nitrogen; 3) Nitrate+Nitrite Nitrogen; and 4) Total Phosphorus. Further, the regulations specifically list certain geographic areas, such as specific harbors or bays, under the classification scheme and receiving water requirements (Chapter 11-54, HAR).
Key for aquaculture projects is determination if the proposed coastal or ocean site will allow a ZOM permit for discharge and dilution of effluents to meet receiving water standards (§11-54-3, HAR). The regulations state that no zones of mixing shall be permitted in Class AA marine waters (pristine waters) that are: 1) Within a defined reef area, in waters of a depth of 60 ft. or less; or 2) In waters up to a distance of 1000 ft. offshore if there is no defined reef area and if the depth is greater than 60 ft. ZOMs are allowed in Class A marine waters, but discharges must have received the best degree of treatment or control compatible with the criteria established by this class.
It is clear that determining the potential for direct discharge of aquaculture effluents in the state waters can be challenging. Projects should meet with the Clean Water Branch (CWB) of DOH early in the project site determination process to discuss effluent disposal 16 requirements. Further, the CWB web site has maps of water classification areas by island. These maps, plus information found on the State GIS web site for Coastal and Marine Layers, can be very useful in evaluating a site.
Clean Water Branch
Department of Health
Web site: http://hawaii.gov/health/environmental/water/cleanwater/wqsmaps/index.html
Underground Injection Control
Another option for waste water disposal on land is obtaining a permit for an injection well under the Underground Injection Control (UIC) Program. Permits are issued by the Safe Drinking Water Branch (SDWB) of DOH to inject certain types of fluids from aquacultural and other types of operations into the ground to disperse (see Section on the UIC Permit).The concern in locating injection wells is to prevent migration of effluents into and pollution of underground drinking water sources.
The state manages this concern by establishing a UIC line around every island. Generally, lands on the mountain side of this line are considered to have aquifers that could serve as a source of drinking water, hence no injection wells are permitted. Lands on the ocean side of the line are not considered as potential sources of drinking water and may be permitted for an injection well.
Prospective aquaculture projects should contact the SDWB to discuss the characteristics of any proposed site. The Branch has a detailed web site that has maps that show the UIC line for each island.
Safe Drinking Water Branch
Department of Health
Web site: http://hawaii.gov/health/about/admin/health/environmental/water/sdwb/uic/uicprogrm.html
In the previous discussions, important site evaluation considerations were described: 1) Land Use Classifications (Zoning); 2) Coastal Area Designations; 3) Wetland Designations; 4) Sourcing of Water; and 5) Disposing of Water. With each area, the responsible agency was 17 named, contact information was listed, and the links to online maps and other useful resources were provided. The prospective aquaculture project should review this information to gain insight as to the suitability of the initial candidate sites for the project.
The next step is to develop an initial list of likely regulatory requirements and permits for each candidate site, such that appropriate agencies can be contacted and detailed information collection can begin (see next Section 3.0 on Streamlining the Permit Process for other recommended actions).
Figure 1 is provided to allow the project to make an initial determination of which federal, state and county environmental permits and regulatory requirements may be needed to secure a particular site according to its general location; inland, coastal, or in the ocean. The figure directs prospective projects to appropriate permit sections of this guide for more detailed information.
The graphic is organized according to location of the project; that is, seaward of the shoreline or in the ocean (state marine waters), in the coast (within the designated Special Management Area (SMA) or inland of the SMA), and towards the mountains. Likely federal, state and county permit requirements are listed and possible requirements are also described. Review of this graphic, with one or more specific candidate sites in mind, should allow a prospective project to develop a checklist of potential permits to further investigate with Section 4.0 of the Guide.
The goal of the user should be to gain a “working understanding” of the requirements for detailed discussions with the responsible agencies to elaborate and clarify application process for a specific permit.
Pacific Region Aquaculture and Coastal Resource Hub
2525 Correa Road, HIG 238
Honolulu, HI 96822
Phone: (808) 956-7031
Each pattern represents a Center of Excellence. Learn more about the cultural connections and meanings behind them.