Hawaiʻi’s economy is dependent on the health of the ocean. The marine-related industries of fishing, aquaculture, tourism, recreation, and shipping provide approximately 15% of Hawaiʻi’s civilian jobs. According to the National Ocean Economics Program (NOEP), in 2010 Hawaiʻi’s ocean economy accounted for 100,215 jobs and over $3.1 billion in wages.
According to University of Hawai‘i (UH) College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (UH CTAHR), Hawai‘i residents eat more seafood per capita than the rest of the United States. In 2010,Hawai‘i residents spent $330.68 per capita or 11.4% of their total food consumption at home and in restaurants. This is over twice as much as the U.S. per capita of $143.68. Hawaiʻi’s aquaculture value of shellfish and finfish is $2,000,000 annually, and expected to increase.
Shellfish rules were created in the early 1980s to accommodate a fledgling shellfish industry, and because the industry did not survive, the DOH lab lost its U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) certification to analyze shellfish growing waters and shellfish meat samples. In recent years, there has been a concerted effort to create a viable shellfish industry, and the DOH Food Safety Program and DOH lab have revived the shellfish sanitation program.
Benchmark - Where we are now
  • Aquaculture – Many believe that aquaculture is one of the major potential sources for achieving food security and sustainability in the State of Hawaiʻi. A single commercial fish farm exists off the Kona coast, producing over ten thousand pounds of kampachi every week.
  • The Hawaiʻi Department of Agriculture (DOA) has prepared an Aquaculture Guidebook, Permits and Regulatory Requirements for Aquaculture in Hawaiʻi (2011).
  • The Department of Health (DOH) labs on O‘ahu and Hawai‘i Island are now FDA certified to analyze shellfish waters and shellfish samples. Three applications were received by the DOH Food Safety Program to classify shellfish growing waters, and DOH Environmental Health & Safety Division has completed their assessments for two areas on O‘ahu (Moli‘i and He‘eia Keaponds) and one artificial growing area on Kaua‘i. Growing water sampling has commenced for permit approvals.
  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Pacific Islands Regional Office (PIRO) has facilitated development of an aquaculture permitting process with DLNR-OCCL and USACE. NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC) has developed a mapping portal to aid in siting open ocean aquaculture.
  • Shipping – The state’s economy is completely dependent on the state’s harbors. Hawai‘i imports 80% of its required goods, and nearly 99% of these come through the harbor system as their point of entry. With ten commercial harbors on six islands, the health of this state asset is important to the overall economy.
  • Energy – The Hawai‘i Clean Energy Initiative (HCEI) goal is to achieve 70% clean energy by 2030. This includes 30% from energy efficiency measures and 40% from locally generated renewable sources. Several companies are looking at harnessing ocean-based energy such as Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC), deep seawater air conditioning, and electricity from wave and wind to achieve this goal. In addition, the interconnection of separate island electrical grids via undersea cable has been identified as one of the keys to achieving Hawaiʻi’s energy goals.
Target - Where we would like to be
  • Suitable aquaculture standards are developed and implemented, based on current scientific data, to support culturally, environmentally, and economically sustainable operations, with the goal to increase local food production.
  • Aquaculture standards are integrated into the existing permitting process to facilitate new aquaculture development and improve ongoing industry oversight.
  • Development of the permitting process for aquaculture is completed.
  • DOH completes its environmental assessments and classification of all three proposed shellfish growing areas.
  • Interstate (export) of shellfish.
  • Tons of cargo arriving at Hawai‘i ports is increased.
  • Clean energy goals of the HCEI are met while balancing the need to protect the ocean and coastal resources.

Increase in percentage of alternate energy coming from ocean sources, as measured in megawatt-hours

There is vast potential in deriving electrical power from the ocean. Alternative energy sources that utilize the ocean include mechanical energy (waves, currents and tides), offshore wind, and thermal energy (which utilizes the temperature differential between cold, deep seawater and warm, surface seawater). Hawaiʻi has superior potential for each of these technologies, however, does not currently depend on any of them for substantive energy production. Ocean current and tidal resources are not as promising in Hawaiʻi due to its relatively mild tidal shifts compared to other parts of the world.

Marine Hydrokinetic Energy (MHK)
MHK refers to technologies which tap the kinetic energy of the ocean—the energy carried by moving water. Most typically, the ocean’s motion is converted to usable electricity by a device which either spins as the water flows past it or converts wave motion to electricity.
The U.S. Navy's Wave Energy Test Site (WETS), located off Marine Corps Base Hawaiʻi, near Kaneohe, is the United States’ first grid-connected test site for wave energy. Wave energy conversion (WEC) devices are undergoing testing at WETS under support of funding from the U.S. Department of Energy and the Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAFVAC). WETS consists of three test berths, at depths of 30m, 60m, and 80m, capable of testing WEC devices with up to 1 megawatt (MW) peak power production. For more information, see the WETS factsheetHawaiʻi National Marine Renewable Energy Center (HINMREC) website, or HNEI's informational video on wave energy.
Ocean Thermal Technologies
Two major ocean thermal technologies are of interest in Hawaiʻi: seawater air conditioning and ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC). Both rely on the fact that the deep ocean is significantly colder than the tropical surface. In Hawaiʻi, this deep, cold water is relatively close to shore in many locations.
The Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaiʻi Authority (NELHA) on Hawaiʻi Island is host to the first grid-connected, closed-cycle OTEC experimental plant in the United States. NELHA’s cold seawater supply pipes are the deepest large-diameter pipelines in the world’s oceans, extending to 2,000-foot and 3,000-foot depths; providing a temperature variance between 4.5 °C and 6°C (40 °F and 43°F) at lower depths to 24° – 28.5°C (75° – 83°F) near the surface. The facility has a 100 kW turbine generator. Power plants up to 100 MW in capacity have been proposed for locations off Oahu. Any power plant must receive and meet regulatory requirements. For more information, see the HNEI webpageHINMREC webpage, or HNEI informational video on OTEC.
A seawater air conditioning project, Honolulu Seawater Air Conditioning, has been proposed for the downtown Honolulu area.

Wave Power 


For background information on ocean energy in Hawaiʻi, see the Hawaiʻi State Energy Office's (HSEO) Ocean Energy website and HSEO's Hawaiʻi Energy Facts & Figures (May 2017).
Agency: Department of Business, Economic Development, and Tourism, Hawaiʻi State Energy Office
Image: Getty Images
Videos:  HNEI Wave Energy and HNEI OTEC 

Title Image: Flickr