SAN DIEGO - A prestigious San Diego research institute and a Long Beach social benefit investment group are teaming to create what could be the first fish farm in federal waters.
The proposed farm, Pacific Ocean AquaFarm, would be located about four miles offshore of San Diego and would generate 5,000 metric tons of sushi-grade yellowfish each year - enough for 11 million servings of the popular seafood.
A partnership between Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute and Pacific6 Enterprise, the project also would create a diversity of economic opportunities and provide a local source for a fish that is now mostly imported.
The institute submitted a federal permit application for the project on Sept. 9. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will lead the environmental review of the proposal, which will take about 18 to 24 months. Construction would take about a year, and the first set of fish stocked there would be ready for market in another 18 to 22 months, Kent said.
"We're talking about five years before people are enjoying farmed yellowtail off the coast of California," said Don Kent, president and CEO of Hubbs-SeaWorld.
Environmental groups have opposed previous offshore aquaculture operations, arguing that they pose risks to marine life, can foul the water, and undermine wild fisheries. Kent said that the project would be cleaner than aquaculture facilities in other countries, and would be designed and located to avoid impacts to marine animals or fishermen. He said similar projects are already in operation in Mexico, but launching the operation in San Diego could enhance job creation and food security here.
"We would rather have all the economic benefit in this country here, for our people," he said. "Since we're buying the product anyway, we would rather grow it to our standards."
Hubbs-Seaworld already operates a hatchery in Carlsbad, north of San Diego, and there are farms that raise oysters and abalone in Southern California, Kent said.
But there are currently no other aquaculture projects in U.S. federal waters, defined as three to 200 nautical miles offshore. In 2014, the organization proposed opening a different project, Rose Canyon Fisheries, near San Diego, but that project never came to fruition.
Part of the challenge for projects like this is the longer timeline, which can scare off conventional investors, said John Molina, a founder of Pacific6, which has invested in other aquaculture operations, clean energy, affordable housing and historic renovation projects. Pacific Ocean AquaFarms could be a prototype for sustainable and profitable fish production.