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Plans are to permit, construct and operate a commercial scale, environmentally-sustainable fish farm to raise California Yellowtail (Seriola dorsalis)

Proposed San Diego fish farm could be first in federal water

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Tuesday, September 22, 2020, 15:00 (GMT + 9)

SAN DIEGO (AP) — A research institute in San Diego and an investment group in Long Beach have teamed up to propose what could be the first open-ocean fish farm in federal waters off the southern California coast.

Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute and Pacific6 Enterprise proposed the Pacific Ocean AquaFarm and submitted a federal permit application for the project earlier this month, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported Sunday.

California Yellowtail (Seriola dorsalis) Photo: courtesy Pacific Ocean AquaFarms

The farm would be about 4 miles (6 kilometers) offshore of San Diego and would generate 5,000 metric tons of sushi-grade yellowfish annually, enough for about 11 million servings, officials said. The partners also boast the project would provide a local source for fish and create diverse economic opportunities, including about 75 jobs.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will next lead the environmental review of the proposal, which could take up to two years, Hubbs-SeaWorld President Don Kent said, adding that construction and market-ready product could add a few more years to the timeline.

“We’re talking about five years before people are enjoying farmed yellowtail off the coast of California,” Kent said. The project would also need to be vetted by half a dozen state and federal agencies, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, he said.

Environmental groups have opposed previous offshore aquaculture operations, citing concerns about predation, pollution and effects on other marine species such as whales, dolphins and sharks.

Kent argued that this project would be designed to avoid harmful effects to marine animals or fishermen and could enhance job creation and food security in the region after already launching a similar operation in Mexico.

Hubbs-Seaworld already operates a hatchery in Carlsbad, and there are farms that raise oysters and abalone in Southern California. But there are no other aquaculture projects in U.S. federal waters, defined as three to 230 miles (370 kilometers) offshore.

Pacific6 Founder John Molina said the challenge is the longer timeline and the hesitation from investors who question if they are getting a fair return.

The project came as the federal government announced the creation of 10 planned aquaculture opportunity areas throughout the country, with the first in Southern California and Baja. The program will be overseen by NOAA and comes under an executive order signed by President Trump in May.

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