Open Ocean Aquaculture

  • Goal: To ensure that open ocean aquaculture projects are sited and designed appropriately to minimize impacts to marine wildlife, avoid conflicts with other ocean uses, and to reduce threats to public health and safety
  • Year Started: 2020
  • Clients: Santa Barbara Channelkeeper, Environmental Defense Center

The demand for seafood in the United States continues to grow, as Americans eat an average of 16 pounds of fish each year. To meet that growing demand, there is a push to increase open ocean aquaculture – factory farming underwater. Aquaculture is the mass breeding, rearing and extraction of shellfish and finfish in the ocean using large net pins, pods, and cages. While producing an additional food source, the impacts of aquaculture on our marine environment, as well as public health and safety, must be closely considered. Impacts include water quality and habitat degradation, introduction of non-native species including predators and disease, loss of genetic diversity in wild fish populations, entanglements of whales and other wildlife, conflicts with other ocean uses such as commercial fishing, recreation, and renewable infrastructure, and safety risks of boaters and aquaculture workers.

In 2019, the Ventura Port District began efforts to secure access to 2,000 acres in the ocean, and within that area lease plots to private aquaculture operators as a means to provide a new source of revenue to cover the costs of dredging the harbor. The District explored a proposal in state waters as well as federal waters (more than three miles offshore). On behalf of Santa Barbara Channelkeeper and EDC, we worked to ensure the District’s project was not pursued in federal waters, as federal regulations are not sufficient to protect the marine environment, public health, or safety. If a project is pursued in state waters, it would be held to a stricter permitting process to assure thorough review and analysis, application of strong environmental protection laws, and a robust opportunity for public participation. In March 2021, the Ventura Port District decided to withdraw its applications for a project in federal waters. EDC will continue to work at the state and federal level to ensure aquaculture sites are properly sited and strong legislation is put in place to minimize threats to marine life and public safety.

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