LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Letter to Army Corps of Engineers suggested to stop finish aquaculture in our area

October 16, 2020
By Olivia Cameron

To the Editor:
The Army Corps of Engineers is seeking comment on a proposal to allow Ocean Era/Velella Epsilon to develop finfish aquaculture in the Gulf 45 miles west of Sarasota.
In addition to public comment, a hearing on this precedent-setting decision needs to be held to gauge public opposition to this project..
Direct your comment to Ms Katy Damico immediately.  You may use the following sample letter:
Ms. Katy Damico 
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District
Tampa Permits Section 
10117 Princess Palm Avenue, Suite 120 
Tampa, Florida 33610-8302
Re: Public comment on SAJ-2017-03488 (SP-KRD) – Section 10 permit to allow Ocean Era/Velella Epsilon to develop finfish aquaculture operations in the Gulf of Mexico.  
My name is __________________ and I live in ______________________________. I am commenting today against attempts to develop finfish aquaculture operations in the Gulf of Mexico. First, I want to express my appreciation that the Corps has listened to the public outcry and decided to provide a public notice and comment period on its permit for Ocean Era’s Velella Epsilon facility. Public participation is a central hallmark of our democracy. It improves the quality of agency action and ensures that the administrative process has both public accountability and legitimacy. Thank you for heeding the public outcry and refraining from reaching a decision on this permit until the formal notice and comment period has been completed and all comments have been considered.
Second, I want to formally request a public hearing on this important and precedent-setting decision. The public has shown tremendous interest in this issue and deserves every opportunity to be heard. There are a number of reasons that underscore the Army Corps’ obligation to schedule a public hearing with the opportunity for live, public testimony on this issue. These include, but are certainly not limited to, needing to provide a forum for: 
Open public dialogue about the permit and potential implications it poses for the Gulf region;
Gaining a sense of our community’s concerns about the issuance of the permit, which would allow the first offshore fish farm to operate in the Gulf of Mexico;
Increasing our community’s awareness and media coverage of the pending permit and decision;
Educating the public on the pending decision and allowing others to gather more information as they determine whether to comment on the permit; and
“Taking the pulse” of our community’s overall sentiment toward the offshore aquaculture facility at issue, and plans to place more operations throughout the region.
Finally, I want to voice my opposition to the Velella Epsilon facility. This operation would be bad news all around for Boca Grande the larger Gulf region. It has been well documented globally that operations like these pose serious threats to the environment and public health. They routinely allow for massive, catastrophic fish spills – like the release of more than 260,000 non-native Atlantic salmon along Washington state’s coast – which spread disease, can change genetics and behaviors of fish, and create unnecessary competition with our already struggling wild fish stocks. Serious tropical storms and hurricanes are one primary cause of spills, like the August 25th storm in Scotland that caused 50,000 farmed Atlantic salmon to escape into public waters. We just had two back-to-back storms come through the Gulf. Hurricane Laura caused heavy damage and a number of deaths. Imagine how a storm like this could destroy a fish farm in its path.
Equally concerning are the excess nutrients that this facility will discharge into the Gulf. Finfish farming operations freely flush a range of pollutants into the water, including heavy metals, pharmaceuticals, and fish waste. These types of pollution could feed red tide and other harmful algal blooms. In recent years, the red tide has been longer and more severe despite Gulf citizens, states, and localities taking serious steps to reduce runoff. The last thing we need is any additional nutrients in our water, which is exactly what this facility would cause.
Moreover, it is clear that Velella Epsilon would harm our fishing, tourism, and other marine industries, which are under intense pressure from the COVID-19 crisis and were already struggling to rebuild after recent disasters like oil spills, hurricanes, ongoing algal blooms and widespread coral die off. This facility would also create a private enclosure in public waters, creating unreasonable competition for marine space and pushing out public uses like fishing, boating, swimming, and diving.
For these reasons, I’m joining my neighbors today to protest Velella Epsilon, and to call for the Army Corps to deny the proposed permit. This operation is the last thing our Gulf needs. 
Mary Bess
          Boca Grande