With a spirit of enthusiasm, optimism, and collaboration, Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego Director Margaret Leinen kicked off a discussion forum on the future of aquaculture in California on November 3, 2014, on the Scripps campus.
The event gathered more than 80 experts from various sectors within and supporting aquaculture, uniting participants eager to cultivate sustainable fish farming as a means of feeding the planet’s bulging population. Attendees included private-sector entrepreneurs covering challenges and opportunities in aquaculture, as well as scientists exploring potential research solutions.
Leinen set the stage for the event by highlighting Scripps’s early roots in studying marine life off our state’s coast. She highlighted longstanding programs such as the 65-year-old California Cooperative Oceanic Fisheries Investigations (CalCOFI) program, which is focused on quarterly ocean surveys to provide leaders in science and resource management with information on the state of fish populations and health of our nearshore ocean waters.
Such a historical foundation set a backdrop for the aquaculture workshop and its goals of information sharing and exploring collaboration.
“This makes Scripps the perfect place to convene an event with aquaculture specialists, not only to share information with leaders in this area, but to investigate ways in which Scripps’s expertise in marine sciences can aid environmentally responsible aquaculture efforts in the future,” said Leinen.
While researchers are not developing aquaculture farms at Scripps, the institution’s long history in marine sciences offers expertise ripe to support and advance modern aquaculture efforts. In addition to its longstanding studies in fisheries research, Scripps scientists in ecology, genomics, and cell research could address aquaculture challenges in biology, while experts in ocean circulation, pollution, coastal oceanography, and marine engineering could offer insights for others creating offshore fish farms.
The Future of Aquaculture in California covered multiple areas, from a history of aquaculture in the U.S. and around the world by California Sea Grant/Scripps aquaculture specialist Paul Olin, to active aquaculture efforts described regionally by Don Kent of Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute and internationally by Rex Ito of Primetime Seafood.
The United States imports more than 90 percent of the seafood it consumes, creating an annual trade deficit exceeding $10 billion, said Olin in his overview.
“Much of this seafood could be produced domestically by Americans farming fish and shellfish,” he said. “If we doubled domestic aquaculture production it would produce seafood with a farm gate value (base price) of $1 billion and create 55,000 new jobs. Increasing seafood consumption is recommended by the FDA and would dramatically improve public health, primarily by reducing fatal coronary heart disease.”
The event also covered public information and education aspects with leaders at Scripps, Aquarium of the Pacific, Monterey Bay Aquarium, and the restaurant sector. Also included were discussions on supporting efforts in aquaponics, a system of growing plants in water used to grow aquatic organisms, and related algae aquaculture research, in a session led by Steve Mayfield, a UC San Diego biology professor and director of the California Center for Algae Biotechnology.
“The algae industry more and more is getting really strongly focused on the need for new biomass sources that have higher nutritional value than traditional terrestrial crops and are not wild harvest ocean fishmeal,” said Scripps biologist Greg Mitchell, who conducts research on algae in his Scripps laboratory.
Olin said the event created a productive opportunity for people to learn about aquaculture and the compelling need globally to increase seafood production through responsible aquaculture.
“This event was a wonderful opportunity to open the door and look at a whole house full of rooms involved in aquaculture,” Leinen told the audience at the event’s conclusion. “The thing that made the day a great one was the diversity and the quality of conversations—we touched on so much of the motivation for (aquaculture), the problems, the opportunities, the experience, and technology.”
— Mario C. Aguilera
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