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Six miles off the coast of Long Beach, CA you will encounter a series of unassuming buoys bobbing gently over 100 acres of seawater at the Catalina Sea Ranch. What these sea farming entrepreneurs are growing underneath may just solve a multitude of the world’s most daunting issues in food sustainability. Recent pandemics and ensuing food shortages have exposed the urgency of adopting low-risk, renewable resources today…but what about feeding the growing population over the next 30 years?

Catalina Sea Ranch Farming Underseas

Farming underseas may be the perfect solution to feed the growing population and for the U.S. to compete in the global seafood market.
Diver farming underseas for mussels
Diver farming underseas for mussels

According to National Geographic, by 2050, we will need to feed an additional 2 billion people, meaning we will need to harvest more food than we have in the past 10,000 years combined! However, even before the COVID-19 outbreak, it was clear that overpopulation, pollution and lack of sustainable resources were major threats to our humanity. Now it is palpably clear that exhausting the world’s resources will not sustain life as we know it on land, and our oceans are approaching peak fishing status. So what direction are we left to take?

Very recently, the U.S. began permitting aquaculture, or aquafarming in federal waters, which consist of all waters 3-200 miles off the nation’s shoreline. The Catalina Sea Ranch is the nation’s first offshore aquaculture facility in U.S. federal waters. Their cash crop? “Mussels are our cash crop because they don’t get disease, they have less risk factors, and they grow faster,” says Founder and serial entrepreneur Phil Cruver, whose mussels were the first ever commercial harvest in U.S. federal waters. “This is historic.”

Currently, aquaculture accounts for roughly 70% of the seafood industry worldwide. However, despite having one of the largest coastlines of any nation, the U.S. is still left with a $15 billion annual trade deficit in the seafood industry. Aquaculture will hopefully reverse this statistic. “A strong U.S. marine aquaculture industry will serve a key role in U.S. food security and improve our trade balance with other nations,” according to the Department of Commerce.

Growing Aquaculture Economy

So why is this industry not immediately booming for new aquaculture startups in the U.S.?
Cooked mussels on a plate
Cooked mussels on a plate

Bill DiMento, President of Stronger America Through Seafood (SATS), believes permitting is the most blatant obstacle hindering this market. “Without a predictable, affordable, and efficient permitting process for offshore aquaculture, the U.S. will continue to miss out on the economic opportunities…” Di Mento adds that solidifying this permitting process “will be critical for the U.S. to meet growing consumer demand and compete globally.”

However, aquaculture for top market performers such as shrimp and salmon has posed issues in the past, making permits often very difficult to obtain. Ryan Bigelow, Program Manager for Seafood Watch, explains, “Aquaculture, especially with shrimp and salmon, has had a bad reputation for pollution, spreading disease and other environmental impacts…but they remain the best performers and new companies are showing aquaculture can be done well.”

Bigelow also confirms the benefits of the Catalina Sea Ranch’s cash crop. “Mussels don’t need any feeding at all. They filter their food from the water. Also, a lot of things associated with bad farming on land—crammed quarters, use of questionable foods, use of different chemicals—are not needed for mussels. They like tight spaces, they don’t need a lot of antibiotics, and they don’t require any food. They can also clean up the water.”

Hope for Aquafarming

It is ultimately the consumer’s responsibility to embrace the work of forward-thinking entrepreneurs.
Fishing boat on water in Los Angeles
Fishing boat on water in Los Angeles

Entrepreneurs like Phil Culver dive deep into the unknown in search of solutions to the world’s most formidable problems. The Catalina Sea Ranch still remains the only aquaculture operation in U.S. federal waters. The valuable data for advanced breeding techniques obtained through the farm’s successful mussels experiment has piloted initiatives for harvesting kelp, scallops, oysters, sea urchins, abalone, and local lobsters.

The emergence of more aquaculture farms, such as Catalina that practice clean harvesting of mussels with minimal pollution, will yield an exponential and renewable supply of product to feed the population as well as boost the economy. As consumers, our responsibility lies in curbing our daily habits to adopt these solutions and, in return, ensure our survival.

If we were ever to embrace a new delicacy in our diets, mussels seem to be a clear answer: a sustainable, low-maintenance, safe and healthy resource grown in virtually boundless ocean waters. Bon appétit and bon voyage!

Do you think farming underseas will prove to be a sustainable food resource? Let us know down in the comments.

This article originally published on GREY Journal.

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