Aquaculture Moving In Off California’s Coast

fish farm photo


Waterkeeper’s Senior Attorney, Tatiana Gaur, and I recently had the opportunity to attend the California Aquaculture Law Symposium at UCLA School of Law. The symposium consisted of representatives from state regulatory agencies, industry, and non-governmental organizations.

The theme of the day for industry representatives was the United States’ approximately $10 billion seafood trade deficit. According to industry representatives, this deficit, along with dwindling fisheries across the world, demands the United States to develop a stronger domestic aquaculture industry. Regardless of whether the solution to these issues is in fact aquaculture, it seems that the aquaculture industry is coming to our shores, one way or another.

For the time being, in California’s state waters, marine aquaculture for commercial purposes is limited to oysters, abalone, clams, and mussels. When properly designed, sited, and managed, aquaculture operations raising these bivalve species can actually improve water quality by filtering pollutants out of the water.

However, California’s state waters end three nautical miles offshore, where federal jurisdiction takes over. It is beyond that boundary south of Long Beach that KZO Sea Farms will be siting its Catalina Sea Ranch, the first shellfish ranch in federal offshore waters.

The growth of aquaculture will not end with shellfish, though. The next frontier for California’s offshore waters is finfish. Regulatory agencies, including the California Coastal Commission, are considering approval of a new finfish operation in the federal waters off San Diego. The applicant, Hubbs-Seaworld Research Institute, seeks to eventually scale up its proposed Rose Canyon Fisheries aquaculture operation to produce approximately 5,000 metric tons of fish a year.

The potential for more massive finfish aquaculture operations off the California coastline has long been propounded by industry representatives. However, aquaculture of finfish has been linked to a host of environmental risks and harms, including the escape of non-native species, release of concentrated nutrients and other pollutants, introduction of antibiotics into ecosystems, among others.

If the Rose Canyon Fisheries project goes forward, substantial monitoring will be required to help evaluate the environmental risks. But, I anticipate similar proposals will soon come before regulatory agencies, potentially off Los Angeles’s coastline, once a precedent has been set by Hubbs-Seaworld. As Californians, we should do our research and engage with regulatory agencies when such projects are under consideration.

A useful resource to start your research is Center for Food Safety’s website:

-Jeffrey Van Name, Law Fellow

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