Aquaculture Community Holds Lively Discussion at UCLA School of Law 

On March 13, members of the aquaculture community met at UCLA School of Law for the inaugural California Aquaculture Law Symposium. The presenters and attendees were a mix of aquaculturists, government regulators, non-profit groups and students. Paul Olin, aquaculture specialist for the California Sea Grant Extension Program, started off the discussion by describing why aquaculture should be on everyone’s radar:

1) eating fish is good for you;

2) the demand for seafood is quickly outpacing the supply;

3) the U.S. imports 90 percent of its seafood, increasing the trade deficit;

4) aquaculture creates jobs and rejuvenates coastal communities;

5) farm-raised fish can be more sustainable than wild fish, and the list goes on.

These sentiments were repeated by several other panelists as was the frustration that the permitting process in California deters aquaculturists from launching new projects here. But despite these challenges, several presenters highlighted some innovative projects that will help pave the way for new aquaculture ventures in the future. These projects included:

1) Humboldt Bay Harbor District, seeing the many benefits of encouraging an environmentally-friendly industry like shellfish aquaculture, recognized the need for a more streamlined process for aquaculture permitting in Humboldt Bay. So they developed the idea of pre-permitting lease parcels themselves,  obtaining the necessary permits from the various state and federal agencies, and then subdividing those parcels into sizes that private growers  could then afford to sublease. Incentives from the Headwaters Fund and the local municipalities have helped the District push forward with the CEQA and planning work that’s been needed.

2) Rose Canyon Fisheries, a partnership between Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute and Cuna del Mar, has launched an open-ocean aquaculture project 5 miles off the coast of San Diego in federal waters. The commercial-scale aquaculture project is proposing to raise species such as yellowtail jack, white sea bass and striped bass. The project is the first of its kind in U.S. waters and is currently going through the regulatory review process.

3) Scientists at UC Davis Bodega Bay Marine Lab have successfully raised endangered white abalone in their captive breeding program, giving hope to the continued role of aquaculture in species recovery efforts

4) Doug Bush, an abalone farmer from Santa Barbara, shared his vision for reinvigorating the Ventura Harbor and the surrounding coastal communities through a project to be developed by the Ventura Shellfish Group – a collaboration between his farm, the Ventura Harbor District, a local scientific lab with water quality testing expertise, and a converted fleet of mariners who would become shellfish farmers. The vision includes a cooperatively-run processing and branding/marketing effort that supports a local culinary scene (based on home-grown mussels) to compliment Ventura’s beautiful marina backdrop.

During the final Q&A session, other important issues were raised that deserve further consideration. The negative public perception of aquaculture was pointed out as one of the big challenges the industry faces. Randy Lovell, aquaculture coordinator for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, suggested that the public is more supportive of aquaculture than it has been in the past and that this will inevitably help lead the way for positive change. Several participants suggested establishing a congressional aquaculture caucus and sending lobbyists to Washington may help improve the climate for aquaculture in the state.

Here at Aquaculture Matters, we hope to continue the discussion about the future of aquaculture in California and welcome your questions, comments and suggestions. Please email aquaculturematters@wildlife.ca.gov to join the conversation.

The California Aquaculture Law Symposium was sponsored by the National Sea Grant Law Center. A big thank you goes out to Lauren Bernadett, whose vision it was to hold this important discussion, to Annalisa Batanides, who helped coordinate the event, and to a panel of advisors who made it possible. A full list of speakers and links to their presentations may be found here.