By Emily Vidovich. Emily has a background in environmental journalism and sustainability and is a member of the George Washington University Class of 2019.

Off the coast of San Pedro, Pacific Mariculture is developing the first offshore mussel farm in United States federal waters. The project’s goal is to create a sustainable shellfish farm that can increase food security, create local jobs, and reduce reliance on imported seafood.

Bivalves—a class of shelled marine organisms including mussels, clams, oysters, and scallops that are colloquially referred to as shellfish—are unassuming creatures that are getting an increasing amount of attention. As climate change, population growth, and overfishing collide to create a perfect storm for a food shortage in the coming decades, scientists and experts are finding that consuming more shellfish and less other animal proteins will be crucial to securing a sustainable future for food. That is because shellfish are both nutritious—they are more protein-dense than many other meats and have high levels of both omega-3 fatty acids and essential micronutrients—and one of the most environmentally friendly foods available. 

The nutrient density and nonexistent environmental impact of mussels makes them a promising dietary staple for the future. Photo by Andy Castille on Unsplash.

When farmed, bivalve aquaculture is zero-impact because bivalves require no feeding, antibiotics, or chemicals. Since they are filter feeders, bivalves improve their environment by cleaning the water. Shellfish also provide a structural habitat for other species. These factors make bivalve farming the aquatic archetype of regenerative agriculture. Whether wild caught or farmed, bivalves have notably less environmental impact than other animal proteins, including farmed fish. Zoologist David Willer attested to this in an interview with BBC, noting, “If just 25% of ‘carnivorous fish’ aquaculture was replaced with an equivalent quantity of protein from bivalve aquaculture, 16.3 million tonnes of CO2 emissions could be saved annually—equivalent to half the annual emissions of New Zealand.” 

The various benefits of bivalves as a food source led Pacific Mariculture to focus on mussels, which are native to California. Pacific Mariculture is a subsidiary of Pacific 6, a Long Beach-based partnership that seeks to invest in and develop projects that positively impact communities, including sustainable aquaculture. Pacific6 believes that, “employing proven science, advanced technology, best industry practices and diligent consideration for the environment can create a paradigm shift in domestic seafood production.” In order to realize this vision, Pacific6 works with research institutes, scientists, environmentalists, government agencies, fishermen, and aquafarmers.

At the AltaSea campus in the Port of Los Angeles, along the stretch of coast where the offshore mussel farm is located, Pacific Mariculture and the University of Southern California (USC) have teamed up to train future blue economy professionals. At the USC labs housed at AltaSea, the university and its industry partners—including Pacific Mariculture—provide college students with year-round training in aquaculture practices as well as research and development. Industry experts train students in both established and emerging aquaculture operations, while USC academics train students to properly approach experimental design and data analysis. This two-pronged approach facilitates the development of a well-rounded new generation of blue economy professionals. Through its innovations in mussel farming and contributions to education initiatives, Pacific Mariculture is helping to realize a future based on a sustainable blue economy.

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