Thursday, May 28, 2009
The demand for seafood is increasing at a time when overfishing, pollution and other factors are reducing wild populations. One way to meet growing demand is fish farming. A San Diego group wants to build an aquaculture project five miles west of Mission Beach. KPBS Environment Reporter Ed Joyce tells us the farm would be the first of its kind in federal waters.
SAN DIEGO The demand for seafood is increasing at a time when overfishing, pollution and other factors are reducing wild populations. One way to meet growing demand is fish farming. A San Diego group wants to build an aquaculture project five miles west of Mission Beach. KPBS Environment Reporter Ed Joyce tells us the farm would be the first of its kind in federal waters.
The Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute wants to build a fish farm in the ocean off San Diego.
"Yellowtail, halibut, white seabass, striped bass are the four species we're looking at," Kent says.
Don Kent is the President of Hubbs.
The institute developed and manages the white seabass hatchery in Carlsbad's Aqua Hedionda lagoon.
Kent says the aquaculture project will demonstrate how raising fish can reduce imports and improve the local economy.
"When we're spending $9 billion more a year for seafood than we're exporting that's telling us that you know, we're sending a lot of our money and a lot of our jobs somewhere else," Kent says.
Kent says the facility would raise striped bass in up to 24 net pens secured to the ocean floor.
He says the farm would operate with more stringent environmental and health standards than farms in other countries.
Scott Harrison with the San Diego Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation wants to make sure that happens.
"So it's our job to really ride them hard on this and make sure things are done the right way," Harrison says.
The Hubbs-SeaWorld Institute has an international reputation for marine research.
Even so, Sam Schabacker with San Francisco-based Food and Water Watch says there are major problems with the project.
"What they're going to be producing in terms of their concentrated waste streams is the equivalent of the sewage that 30,000 people would produce in one year, Schabacker says. "So we're going to be having large amounts of concentrated fish effluent floating through the oceans just off the coast of San Diego."
But Don Kent with Hubbs says routine sea floor monitoring would catch any problems.
He says some of the waste can actually be beneficial, not unlike using animal waste on land as fertilizer.
Kent also says the digestive wastes from farmed fish are the same as those generated by schools of wild fish.
Schabacker says the proposed farm would be in federal waters, so it would not be subject to California's more rigorous environmental regulations.
"This is going to have significant cumulative impacts that will not be benefiting our coastal communities nor the environment that sustains our marine life," Schabacker says.
Schabacker says he's also concerned about escapes and predation.
"Striped bass which are voracious predators have harmed several native endangered and threatened species, including the Delta smelt," Schabacker says. "If there are non-native species that can escape from the pen, they can eat up everything that is native to the California environments."
There's disagreement about whether the striped bass is native to California.
Kent says Hubbs has operated a net pen facility at Santa Catalina Island for the past seven years without system failure or an escape.
Kent says the fish farm would add fishing industry jobs, but Schabacker doubts it.
"This is something that is highly automated," Schabacker says. "I haven't found one commercial or recreational fisherman that's been in support of the Hubbs-SeaWorld open-ocean aquaculture plan proposal."
Steve Foltz disagrees.
Foltz is Vice President of Chesapeake Fish Company, a seafood distributor on San Diego's bayfront.
"And it's going to be a good thing," Foltz says. "And it will take pressure off the wild simply because it's another species to offer to our chefs and retailers."
There's plenty of wild, fresh fish at Point Loma Seafoods in San Diego.
"OK my friend we've got the crabcake plate and the ice tea to go, came to $14.90," a Point Loma employee tells a customer.
Here you can order a meal or buy fish by the pound.
"We got some wild black seabass, we have some wild mahi mahi out of the islands," says Tim Lamb, describing the fish available.
Tim Lamb has worked at the waterfront restaurant for nearly 30 years.
There's more than 15 species in the display case. But the only farm-raised fish are salmon imported from Canada and Scotland.
"We actually don't for the most part carry the farmed trout or the tilapia," Lamb says. "We feel there's enough variety out there with the other types of fish that we don't need to actually fill our cases with those items."
It will be several years before any of the farm-raised fish would hit market.
Hubbs-SeaWorld President Kent says the fish farm faces a long approval process before state and federal agencies.
He says it will take another two years beyond that before the first crop of fish would be harvested.
Ed Joyce, KPBS News.