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Streamlining the Permit Process

The significant number of agencies and permits that can potentially be involved in starting an aquaculture project can be daunting. However, with careful preparation and planning, the process in many respects can be streamlined by consolidating information and dealing with the requirements of several agencies at the same time. Moreover, anticipation of the data requirements for the involved agencies and the public can lead to efficient preparation and submission of applications and a single, comprehensive environmental review document that facilitates the process.

An aquaculture project should develop an initial project description with sufficient detail to discuss the proposed species and technology, a specific candidate site or sites, and the general business plan. This will allow meaningful preliminary project discussions with the regulatory agencies.

An initial determination of the necessary permits for the proposed site by the project using this guide should dictate which agencies should be involved in these preliminary meetings. As a result of these meetings, the project proponents can gain a better understanding of which permits and federal, state and county agencies will be involved in securing a site.

Under Hawaiʻi law, the decision-making authority concerning the acceptability of the environmental review documents is the purview of the first agency (the lead agency) to receive a permit application. In practice, it may be preferable to have this authority to determine adequacy of an Environmental Assessment (EA), or the need for an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), reside with the agency having jurisdiction over the resource subject to the greatest project impacts, e.g., in the case of use of state lands and ocean waters, the DLNR.

General guidelines and advice on the preparation of the environmental review document are available from the Office of Environmental Quality Control (OEQC), DOH (see section on State Environmental Impact Statements). The OEQC also has an online, searchable archive of all EAs and EISs done in Hawaiʻi, organized by island, that is available for review to help educate the applicant on document requirements [].

Once applicants have a general understanding of the permits required, it is desirable for the project personnel to meet with stakeholders, including government agencies, public organizations, non-governmental organization (NGOs) and members of the public that may be impacted by or have a strong interest in the project. These meetings are utilized to define environmental and other issues of concern to stakeholders that should be addressed in the EA/EIS. Two approaches have been used effectively by previous projects:

  1.  For input from government agencies, either the lead agency or the applicant can organize a Scoping Meeting, where relevant agencies are invited to a meeting to discuss the proposed project and raise any potential issues that the environmental review should address.
  2. For input from other organizations and members of the interested public, the applicant can organize one or more informational meetings to discuss the proposed project and receive input on issues of concern to address in the environmental review.

These stakeholder meetings should occur early in the planning and permitting process to allow for conducting any environmental studies that may be needed to collect data and identify any major obstacles to securing the site. Issues identified by the stakeholder meeting are used to prepare the environmental review and provide the essential information for the decision making process. Moreover, a thorough collection of information and preliminary analysis of issues will allow the single environmental review document to be comprehensive and address most, if not all, of the major issues posed by federal, state, and county governments, NGOs and the general public.

Preparation of a single comprehensive environmental review document efficiently provides more or less the same information to government agencies and the interested public at the same time to facilitate review. Further, it allows the applicant to consider simultaneous filing of federal and state permit applications, in the event that both types of permits will be required. In non-controversial projects this approach can save time and money.

Applicants should be aware that the order of obtaining certain permits is specified by the enabling law. Within the parameters of the law, the actual order of applying for and obtaining permits will depend on the location, scope and nature of a particular project, and is ultimately the decision of the applicant. For example, the following limitations for submission of certain permits should be considered:

  • If an SMA permit (see Section 4.3.2 on SMA) is required for the site, it must be obtained prior to any other permit decision. If an SSV is needed (see Section 4.3.3 on SSV), it can be processed with the SMA permit. However, a project must complete the environmental review process before an SMA is issued.
  • If historic resources/properties are involved with the site, the State Historic Preservation Division (SHPD) must be given an opportunity to review the project prior to final action by any other agency (see Sections 4.2.4 and 4.2.5 on Historic Properties and 21 Sites, and Burials, respectively).
  • If a Department of the Army (DA) permit is required, all permits except for building and grading permits, must be obtained before the permit is issued (see Section 4.1.2 on DA permit). These permits include a Water Quality Certification (WQC) Permit (not required for ocean sea cage projects) and a Coastal Zone Consistency Determination from the state (see Sections 4.2.8 and 4.2.9 on WQC and Coastal Zone Management, respectively).
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Department of Agriculture – Aquaculture and Livestock Services
99-941 Halawa Valley Street
Aiea, Hawaiʻi 96701-5602
Phone: 808-483-7130
Fax: 808-483-7110
Web site:


Pacific Region Aquaculture and Coastal Resource Hub
2525 Correa Road, HIG 238
Honolulu, HI 96822
Phone: (808) 956-7031

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