SAN DIEGO – A partnership involving a fishery, nonprofit and private equity firm hopes to establish the first open-water finfish farm in federal waters just off the coast of San Diego. If realized, a 300,000 square-foot and 5,000-metric-ton fish farm would be located approximately 5 miles off the coast of Mission Beach where striped bass, white sea bass and yellowtail jack will be grown in submersible cages.
Rose Canyon Fisheries, who would head the fish farm, filed applications with the federal government in October. Rose Canyon has partnered with Hubbs SeaWorld Research Institute, a nonprofit charity focused on marine ecosystem conservation. According to the institute, the proposed fish farm “seeks to pioneer domestic, sustainable marine aquaculture.”
Bringing a fish farm off the coast of Mission Beach would strike a balance between incorporating sustainable practices, rebuilding marine life and fish populations and increasing the domestic supply of seafood, explained Don Kent, president and CEO of Hubbs SeaWorld Research Institute, and director and executive of Rose Canyon.
“We’re going to approach this as it’s a recognized need and it’s good for our country. We import about 91 percent of our seafood. We’re doing very little aquaculture. We can become self sufficient. There is a lot more recognition for the need for this,” Kent said. “We’re the first people to grow fish in the federal waters. It’s a model that can be tried with other species (in the Gulf of Mexico and along the Atlantic Seaboard). The technology is here.”
Rose Canyon hopes to shore up the domestic supply of seafood through the fish farm. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Fish Watch database reported the United States imports about 91 percent of its seafood, with about half of what is brought in being sourced from aquaculture, or fish farming.
“Aquaculture production in the United States has not kept pace with the production increases in other parts of the world. The U.S. now ranks 13th in total aquaculture production behind China, India, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, Bangladesh, Norway, Chile, the Philippines, Japan, Egypt and Myanmar,” NOAA reported.
NOAA added worldwide demand for seafood has increased and fish farms could help keep up with the expanding market.
“Worldwide aquaculture production has grown annually by 8.3 percent since 1970, making it the fastest growing form of food production in the world,” NOAA reported. “Currently about half of the world’s seafood comes from aquaculture, and this percentage is projected to increase. Many countries are developing regulatory systems for aquaculture and investing heavily in sustainable aquaculture research and development to provide seafood and create economic opportunities for coastal communities.”
More than six months earlier, Kent filed a “Notice of Exempt Offering of Securities” with the Securities and Exchange Commission on behalf of Rose Canyon. The SEC filing was made under the agency’s Rule 506, which allowed Rose Canyon to raise an unlimited amount of money and sell securities to “accredited investors.”
According to the SEC filing, Rose Canyon offered and sold a little more than $2.3 million in securities. There were two investors who invested in the offering, according to the filing.
Supporting the fish farm was Steve Foltz, who spent many years working in the seafood industry in San Diego and is now with Pacific Seafood in Sacramento.
Foltz said a domestic fish farm would mean reducing the carbon footprint of delivering seafood across the ocean and bring more jobs to the United States.
“We need jobs. This would provide jobs and only help our economy. Farm raising takes a lot of pressure off … catching fish in the wild,” Foltz said.
Beyond jobs and market pressures, researchers from Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future issued a paper in the Journal of Current Environmental Health Reports earlier this year urging medical and public health professionals weigh in on aquaculture’s health impacts.
“While increased seafood consumption comes with many health benefits, we can’t ignore the clear warning signs that we are rapidly approaching the limits of wild fish that can be caught,” said David C. Love, a scientist at Johns Hopkins and the study’s senior author.“Many aquaculture methods are safe and sustainable. However, some methods pose unnecessary risks to public health and deplete natural resources.”
Acknowledging the positive economic impacts, the study pointed out there are risks associated with fish farming, such as farmed seafood being contaminated with antibiotics and heavy metals. Farmed fish could also be treated with chemicals and feed on wild fish, the study’s authors said.
Love said an ideal aquaculture operation is one producing nutritious seafood while conserving resources and providing “a high quality of life for workers.”
Megan Baehrens, executive director of San Diego Coastkeeper, echoed similar thoughts, adding any organization pursuing an offshore fish farm should do so only after conservation best practices were observed.
“Offshore aquaculture should be pursued only after maximizing fisheries management practices such as conservation, sustainable fishing practices and ecosystem-based management efforts to help rebuild critical marine life and fish populations,” she said. “Marine protected areas are one step in the right direction and onshore aquaculture has demonstrated promise while controlling for some of the potential detrimental impacts of offshore aquaculture.”
Of course, building the largest aquaculture facility in the U.S. could take a long. The permitting process for the Rose Canyon-Hubbs SeaWorld venture could take up to 18 months.
Assuming hurdles are cleared with state and federal agencies such as the Army Corps of Engineers, California Coastal Commission, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Coast Guard and the Environmental Protection Agency, Rose Canyon would still have to design the fish farm, build the operation and then conduct the first harvest.
Full scale production, which could be years away, would require a $50 million investment.
Cuna Del Mar would be a major player in helping Rose Canyon raise funds, while Hubbs SeaWorld, according to Kent, would provide Rose Canyon with scientific know-how, especially in balancing a for-profit business model with sustainable practices.
In building the fish farm about 4.5 miles west of the jetty in Mission Beach, Kent said the proposed fish farm would be located in an area of the ocean where it would not interfere with recreational anglers.
“We tried to find a chuck of the ocean that anglers are not too concerned with. We went to a spot in the ocean that’s deep but where there isn’t much happening,” Kent said.
Hubbs SeaWorld first tried to build a fish farm off the San Diego coast in 2009, but, according to Kent, there was a great deal of uncertainty surrounding the venture since certain laws were not yet in place.