Water-quality advocates with San Diego Coastkeeper announced this week that the group is petitioning the federal Environmental Protection Agency to deny a discharge permit for the proposed Rose Canyon Aquaculture Project, which detractors say would place a development "like large-scale feedlots, but in our ocean" just a few miles off the coast of Ocean Beach.
The project, the first of its kind aimed at farming large quantities of deep-sea fish such as yellowtail in American waters, was developed by Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute, a nonprofit arm of the SeaWorld theme-park chain. If approved, it would place 48 tanks, each about four times the size of an Olympic swimming pool, clustered in a group collectively occupying about 1.3 square miles in an area roughly four miles due west of the O.B. fishing pier.
"We want sustainable, wild fish populations that produce healthy food and support fishing businesses in balance with good water quality and a healthy ecosystem — and this isn’t the answer," says Coastkeeper legal and policy director Matt O’Malley in a January 20 press release. "This proposal would bring into our backyard a super-sized 11-million-pound commercial fish factory and its associated pollution, potential for spreading disease, and [potentially impeding] commercial ship traffic."
Speaking in favor of the proposal in September, Hubbs-SeaWorld researchers noted that the U.S. imports 91 percent of the seafood it consumes and argued that sourcing more food close to home would both bring prices down and offer an environmental benefit.
Still, Coastkeeper maintains that commercial fish-farming is "similar to industrial feedlots for cattle or chickens and the environmental, animal welfare, and human health issues associated with these large-scale meat production facilities."
The group further notes that no regulations exist regarding captive breeding of finfish (differentiated from shellfish) in federal waters, which begin three miles off California's coast. They say that, at a minimum, "Congress must establish a clear federal regulatory framework for all aspects of the offshore aquaculture permitting process before any project even be considered."
Barring any new action, a regulation from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association would pave the way for approval of open-ocean aqua-farming, effective February 12.