Port of San Diego updates research services agreement with University of North Carolina

Researchers from Chapel Hill campus will perform additional water quality monitoring services related to shellfish aquaculture opportunities.

SAN DIEGO¾A partnership between the Port of San Diego and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to monitor contaminants in the bay for water quality compliance and to inform the district of potential siting opportunities for shellfish aquaculture was extended, June 18. The port district’s Board of Port Commissioners approved the contract extension, which would expand the partnership’s total budget by as much as $159,000.

The extended agreement is now worth $248,000 and will be in effect through Dec. 31, 2021.

Researchers at UNC Chapel Hill entered into a water quality monitoring agreement with the port district in August 2018. The partnership directed university researchers “to perform research services related to monitoring of the San Diego Bay for microbial contaminants for water quality compliance and to inform potential siting opportunities for shellfish aquaculture.”

“The facilities and analyses capabilities at UNC are unique and specifically fulfill current and emerging regulatory requirements required by state, national, and international agencies that govern shellfish sanitation regulations for shellfish grown or harvested for human consumption,” port district staff stated about the partnership with UNC Chapel Hill.

“While this work has been ongoing, there is a need to continue to evaluate potential locations and provide a comprehensive understanding of microbial contaminant sources and concentrations in the context of recreational and aquaculture beneficial uses of San Diego Bay, as well as satisfy the data requirements necessary for identifying appropriate locations for potential certification by public health agencies,” port district staff continued.

The port district has been pursuing opportunities in the aquaculture space for a few years now – and this research services partnership could help the Port of San Diego pinpoint specific locations in the bay where it could develop shellfish farms or other blue economy businesses.

“The research structure to date has multiple main initial components which have informed potential siting opportunities for shellfish to be grown and harvested for human consumption uses,” port district staff explained in a report to commissioners. “Based upon identified ”hot spots” and areas of minimal concern, additional intensive pathogen monitoring work may be desired prior to final selection of any specific location for aquaculture purposes. In addition, there may be aquaculture products for which direct public consumption is anticipated, indicating a need for proactive pathogen monitoring.”

Port district staff added harbors and ports, due to their unique governance structures, are ideal venues for aquaculture opportunities – hence the need to conduct these research projects.

“Ports and harbors can and are increasingly playing a critical role in sustainable aquaculture development, given their familiarity and expertise in the permitting and entitlement process for a variety of coastal and ocean uses; the unique role they often play as landlord, operator and/or regulator, and as champions of the blue economy,” port district staff stated.

Pursuing aquaculture activities within the Port of San Diego’s jurisdiction is consisting with the port district’s mission, according to the June 18 staff report on the extended research services contract.

“As the state-legislated trustee of tidelands and submerged waters of San Diego Bay, developing sustainable domestic aquaculture helps fulfill the [port] district’s public trust responsibility to promote fisheries and commerce, as well as aligning with its mission to enhance and protect the environment,” port district staff stated in a report to commissioners. “The [port] district is now taking an active leadership role in the expanding domestic aquaculture industry by working closely with state and federal agencies to identify pathways for facilitating early development of regional marine aquaculture projects.”

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