Ventura Port District seeks funds for aquaculture project

Application specifically seeks about $97,000 for shellfish farming.

VENTURA — The Ventura Port District’s Board of Port Commissioners green-lit a request to apply for nearly $100,000 in grant funding for a proposed shellfish farm project in the Santa Barbara Channel.

Ventura Port District is specifically seeking $97,310 from the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission; commissioners authorized the pursuit of funds at their Jan. 24 meeting.

The grant funding, if approved for the port district, would be for one year and run from April 1 to March 31, 2019.

A port district staff report stated the funds, if awarded, would be used to support environmental consulting services in relation to regulatory review and submission of permit applications.

Plans for the shellfish farms call for 20 100-acre growing areas in federal waters near Ventura Harbor, according to port district staff. The district must obtain entitlements and permits before beginning mussel farm operations.

Pursuing aquaculture opportunities in the Ventura region, according to port district staff, would help create jobs and increase the domestic supply of seafood.

“More than 90 percent of seafood consumed in the United States is imported, and of that amount, more than half of imported seafood is from overseas aquaculture,” port district staff stated in a report to commissioners. “The United States ranks only fifteenth in aquaculture job production despite possessing the largest exclusive economic zone in the world.”

The Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries hope to fund various aquaculture pilot programs – such as Ventura Port District’s shellfish farming project, potentially – to ramp up the U.S.’s seafood production.

NOAA Fisheries and the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission are primarily targeting projects on shellfish and seaweed, according to port district staff.

The deadline for submissions was Feb. 1; project finalists should be selected by April 1.

Ventura Shellfish Enterprises would be one of the beneficiaries of grant funding, should the port district be awarded the requested $97,310. The company plans to grow and produce Mediterranean mussel via submerged long line.

“The mussels will be grown and harvested by grower/producers and landed at Ventura Harbor. Cultivating mussels off the California coast is in keeping with federal policy to improve domestic food security. This project is supported, in part, through the NOAA Sea Grant program, the goal of which is to contribute to ‘a safe, secure and sustainable supply of seafood to meet public demand,’” port district staff stated in its grant application to Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission.

“The project is designed to allow for participation by potential growers who might otherwise be precluded because of the significant associated costs and regulatory hurdles of obtaining the required government approvals,” port district staff continued. “The project will create economies of scale that allow individual grower/producers to benefit from centralized environmental monitoring, product safety testing, and product marketing.”

Four tasks would be covered by the grant funds, should the requested $97,310 be awarded to the port district: meeting and agency coordination; develop a list of best management practices; draft permit language and special conditions; and, draft/review monitoring plans.

Efforts to bring aquaculture to the Ventura Harbor area have been afoot since 2015.

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