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Fish Farm Plan in Government Limbo

Oct. 10, 2005 — John Farchette is not a man who will pass up a chance to "wet a line" when he can.
In the off hours, if you don't find the St. Croix native casting for groupers east of Tamarind Beach, maybe you can find him using chicken meat trying to lure crabs out of the lagoon just east of Christiansted so he can cook them up for supper.
Farchette is trying to cage that passion for marine life in a project that not only will provide jobs for St. Croix, but will also make the Virgin Islands less dependent on outside sources for its food.
His passionate drive forward to bring fish farming to St. Croix, however, has not been matched with a bureaucratic drive forward.
Farchette is the front man for a group known as iii & associates, Inc. To learn more about the company go to "iii & associates, Inc.".
The group, which includes Elizabeth A. Farchette, Jannah Abdul Kabir, and Edwin F. Golden Jr., is going through the permitting phase to grow cobia, a native fish, in cages off St. Croix. The group met in February to present the proposal to the Department of Planning and Natural Resources' Division of Coastal Management.
"We were well received by the department," Farchette said,
However, they learned that while the site where they want to raise the hatchlings for the cages was once a hatchery, it is now zoned for low-density residential development.
In May the group started the process to change the zoning of the Rust Op Twist plot from its R-1 designation to an agricultural zoning. There was no opposition to the change expressed at a public hearing on May 31, and it was set for a legislative hearing on Sept. 21.
That hearing was cancelled, although government officials neglected to inform Farchette of the move, he said.
The Senate, meanwhile, is expected to discuss the project at a hearing Thursday.
The fish hatchery and fish-cage project first came to public attention last January (See "St. Croix Is Targeted for Ocean Fish Farm"). Jose Rivera, a biologist from Puerto Rico who works for the National Marine Fisheries Service, explained the project to interested residents and government officials at the Florence Williams Library.
Cobia, which are native to Caribbean waters but not very abundant, have the ability to grow from a three-inch fingerling to an edible 20 pounds in 280 days. Reports are that the fish goes for $4.50 a pound in Miami and people love the taste of it.
At first iii & Associates, which submitted articles on incorporation on Jan. 11, plans just to supply the fingerlings to fish growers in Puerto Rico. Farchette said he hoped to have that part of the operation working by August, but then ran into the zoning problem.
The cages, which hold about 30,000 fish, were developed in Seattle, Wash. Rivera said the cages have been used for a couple of years off Hawaii, the Bahamas and Culebra.
The cage has an inner cage where the fingerlings are kept until they reach a size where they can't go through the bars of the outer cage. Rivera noted that the waters off St. Croix, because they are warmer, could cause the fish to grow to harvesting size much quicker than what is being done in the Bahamas.
But concerns have been raised about waste from feeding the fish floating to the sea bottom. Such waste has a high nutrient mixture that can negatively effect sea life. Farchette said there are measures that can be taken to prevent that from happening.
"If this had negative environmental impacts we would not propose the project," he said. "Our chosen site has a constant current 1.5 knots that leads into the deep. One mile from site down current is 2,000 plus feet and drops eventually to 10,0000 feet where nutrients belong."

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