The first aqua farm in federal waters is in Southern California. It’s about 10 miles out from San Pedro and six miles from the coast of Huntington Beach.
Catalina Sea Ranch is growing seafood, mostly mussels, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It’s about a two-and-a-half-hour boat ride from San Pedro.
“There’s 40 lines out here going 1-20 on one side, 20-40 on the other side. And there’s about 8,000 feet of actual mussel grow line per back bone line, “ said Matt Grant, the ranch manager.
That equals 320,000 feet of grow line on about 100 acres of federal waters.
January 7, 2019 was the first harvest of the year. The crew makes the trip out twice a week.
“Out we don’t have to worry about runoff. We don’t have to worry about pollutants. The water is just pristine and clean,“ said Grant.
The crew gets busy pulling the grow lines onto the boat. It goes through a system of pulleys and wheel that strips the mussels from the ropes. A lot of times the system gets stuck and needs some manpower.
“It is a lot of hard work, but it’s a labor of love I guess," said Grant.
The crew collects the ropes and grow lines to reuse them. Grant says the lines collect more than mussels sometimes, “a little bit of wildlife. You find all kinds of things on the line.”
The mussels get separated and washed through a spin system and various other sorting machines. The smaller mussels are separated from the larger one.
“And they all get hand sorted and hand bagged. Then put on to ice until we’re ready to take them to shore," says Grant.
Back on dry land, Catalina Sea Ranch CEO Phil Cruver says they’re trying to figure out how to breed the best of the best that can survive environmental changes that are, “more resistant to heat, more resistant to ocean acidification.”
Ocean conservation and advocacy group Ocean says by 2050 the Continental U.S. will lose about 12 percent of fisheries due to rising ocean temps. That’s about 600,000 tons of seafood.
Cruver says the ranch isn’t exclusively working on mussels.
“We intend to get into the scallops. No one has ever done that before. And we have about 25,000 oysters growing out at the ranch at the present time,” said Cruver.
They’re also working on concocting a super food for the seafood using kelp.
“It’s kind of like us humans. You can’t just eat candy, you can’t just eat carbohydrates, you can’t just eat protein. This is a mixture so we get the best food for the shellfish that we’re growing in the next room,“ said Cruver.
He says if the ranch can figure out how to grow the best of the best that can withstand environment changes means a steady supply of sustainable seafood year round.
"It’s good for the consumer, it’s good for the ocean, and moreover, it’s good for Catalina Sea Ranch because we can make a lot more money,” says Cruver.
Much of the seafood eaten in the U.S. is imported. But if Catalina Sea Ranch can figure out the science of seafood it may be possible that more of the seafood that ends up on our plates will come from just miles from Southern California’s coast.