AltaSea Partner, Catalina Sea Ranch and the Future of Aquaculture

by Kelly Stromberg, Director of Marketing and Sales, Catalina Sea Ranch

Most people don’t think of where their seafood comes from, they go to a restaurant or the supermarket, get their fish or shellfish of choice and that’s that. What they don’t know though, is that here in the United States, we import approximately 91% of our seafood. Driven by imports, the U.S. seafood trade deficit grew to over $14 billion in 2016.

Seafood is a high-protein food that is low in calories, total fat, and saturated fat. High in vitamins and minerals, seafood has been shown to have numerous health benefits which could help reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke, obesity, and hypertension. Currently, the world’s seafood is sourced from wild fisheries and aquaculture in roughly equal quantities. However, as our world’s population grows, our demand for seafood grows with it. According to the United Nations Food & Agriculture Organization, “With capture fisheries production stagnating, major increases in fish food production are forecast to come from aquaculture. Taking into account the population forecast, an additional 27 million tonnes of production will be needed to maintain the present level of per capita consumption in 2030”.

Aquaculture by definition is the cultivation of aquatic animals and plants, especially fish, shellfish, and seaweed in a natural or controlled marine or freshwater environment. Locally just six miles off Southern California’s coastline is an aquaculture facility trying to help reduce a portion of our seafood imports, their name, Catalina Sea Ranch. They are the first offshore aquaculture facility in U.S. Federal waters.

Catalina Sea Ranch’s 100-acre aquaculture facility is currently growing what is called low trophic organisms such as shellfish and macroalgae to sell to consumers. Low trophic organisms are animals that are low on the food chain, therefore, the ranchers do not have to feed any of the organisms they grow. Shellfish, particularly bivalves, such as mussels, oysters, and scallops thrive on their consumption of single-celled phytoplankton that naturally grows in the ocean.

Being located offshore minimizes marine crop exposure to inland storm water runoff contaminated with bacteria and other pollutants.  Moreover, the ocean flushing characteristics in offshore waters provide a cleaner environment for preventing disease that is a prevalent problem with inshore aquaculture.

Catalina Sea Ranch is located on the periphery of about 26,000 acres (40 square miles) of U.S. Federal waters on the San Pedro Shelf, which is one of the broadest mainland continental shelf segments offshore California. The enormous upwelling phenomenon from adjacent 3,000-foot depths produces phytoplankton flowing onto the shallow San Pedro Shelf serving as rich feed for rapid growth of numerous sustainable marine crops.  The shallow 150-foot depth of this massive underwater plateau is optimal for deployment and maintenance of aquaculture cultivation gear.

The San Pedro Shelf is an exemplary location for developing a sustainable aquaculture industry to help meet growing consumer demand, reduce U.S. dependency on imports, create jobs in coastal communities, and maintain working waterfronts.  Its proximity to San Pedro and a sea-savvy skilled workforce and seafood industry infrastructure is ideal for economical processing and distribution logistics.

Catalina Sea Ranch has its base of operations and moors its vessels at Berth 58, which is a large warehouse of 60,000 square feet, part of the AltaSea campus. It has constructed a research hatchery and converted seven shipping containers used for its research laboratories and offices. Berth 58 has sufficient space for future expansion for aquaculture and R&D operations including a commercial hatchery and training center.

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