West Coast
"It looks like we have, from the map, 7,800 acres we can farm free and clear." Shuttercock.com

Will San Diego aquaculture bring back abalone?

Coastkeeper and local fishermen cast a wary eye

Port officials looking to expand local aquaculture heard some good news this month. A two-year project by federal scientists that mapped the potential for aquaculture in the U.S. found ample promise in San Diego. And zeroing in on those spots is getting easier. "We think this is the most exhaustive analysis ever done at the estuary scale in the U.S.," said James Morris, a marine ecologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who presented the results to the Port.

The Exclusion and Opportunities Analysis for Aquaculture in and Around San Diego Bay draws on ten years of ocean data to tap suitable sites, while ruling out others. The Port has been doing its own studies since 2015, and joined forces with the California State Lands Commission on a pilot project known as the San Diego Ocean Planning Partnership. All of the efforts have yielded a new assessment of local waters, along with an app they were to release on April 22, Earth Day.

Coastkeeper, which has kept a wary eye on local aquaculture, at least the sort dubbed "floating feedlots" for their echoes of factory farm issues (in this case, sea-lice, chemicals, and infectious diseases unleashed on wild habitats) previously commented on the draft report last Dec. "While a mapping tool may be useful" to show what extractive, protective, or other uses exist, "we urge great caution to the Port and SLC not to allow such a tool to be used in a way that facilitates industrial or other development which would further strain our coastal and ocean resources."

The commercial fishing industry sent a slew of comments on the new competition proposed in the ocean sphere. Among their worries: the Port decides on future uses, and at the same time is an economic partner in several aquaculture ventures within, or proposed for, the project area. "This conflict of interest will limit their ability to be an impartial arbiter of competing uses when one of the uses is aquaculture," wrote the San Diego Fishermen's Working Group. The same applies to the SLC, "should it be in the position of weighing non-lease uses over income-producing new lease applications."

Fishing industry groups aired concerns that the new tools might be used to implement ocean zoning — which the port says is not the case. "There are a lot of opinions about aquaculture," Morris said. The NIMBY stance is "one of the biggest challenges." Hence, the need to pinpoint suitable sites. But where should a fish farm go? Can it co-exist with commercial fisheries, with the Navy? Can it mesh with public uses and avoid environmental harm?

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