By Tony Schuur
During the past year we have realized several CAA objectives including:
- Successfully conducting a major aquaculture presentation for the California Legislature Joint Committee for Fisheries and Aquaculture (JCFA) and recommending several actions to improve the governance of California aquaculture.
- Creating and distributing to CAA membership a detailed response to the initiation of the new Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) and informing CAA members about how to adapt to the these important regulations as they might apply in their own regions and farms as SGMA moves to implementation.
- Interacted and supported the National Aquaculture Association’s campaign counteracting what we believe is unnecessary and overreaching regulatory actions that would identify eleven common aquaculture species as “Injurious Species” that, under the Lacey Act, would be banned from interstate commerce as well as being subject to other regulatory constraints, including felony charges for fish farmers that might intentionally or unintentionally violate the law.
- Completing a thorough revision of the CAA bylaws, initiating discussions to implement recommendations made to the JCFA, conducting the election of new board members, including Cameron Eglington of Desert Center and Michael Graham of Moss Landing, and recommending to the JCFA preferences for renewal of the CDFW aquaculture program (AB1886).
A Brief Summary of the JCFA Session
The October 3, 2016 JCFA session held at the Bodega Marine Lab was a unique event for the aquaculture industry because it was the first occasion that aquaculture was given a major opportunity to present a comprehensive overview of California aquaculture at a JCFA session. Committee Chairman Mike McGuire presided over the session, which was also attended by Congressman Jared Huffman (Democrat, San Rafael) who also commented on the presentation as an observer. We are grateful to Senator McGuire for supporting aquaculture and recognizing its potential in California and to Tom Weseloh, the committee’s staff consultant, who worked many hours to organize and prepare the presentation. Tom has been a positive presence in CAA activities for several years, attending Aquaculture Development Committee (ADC) meetings and contributing a valuable political viewpoint to CAA policy development. Senator McGuire introduced the aquaculture session with a very knowledgeable description of what aquaculture can contribute to food production despite the fact that aquaculture in California and the United States lags woefully behind the rest of the world. He noted that the United States depends on foreign seafood supplies for 92% of its consumption and that half of those imports are created in foreign countries. This is an important perspective to understanding the promise of aquaculture in the future.
The subject matter presented to the JCFA consisted of three segments corresponding to California aquaculture sectors: shellfish culture, inland aquaculture, and offshore/marine aquaculture. I led off the presentation with an overview of the value of existing aquaculture, emphasizing the much higher economic value that aquaculture contributes to the California economy in addition to the $100 million farm product value. The economic impact of primary production multiplies production value by several times in the value of labor, feed production, and market/restaurant sales. In the case of supporting recreational fishing, the economic multiplier is more than ten. Likewise, the shellfish industry is an important component of a healthy waterfront along the coast of California providing jobs, a culture impact, and positive impact on the coastal environment.
Greg Dale and John Finger described the shellfish sector, highlighting regulatory constraints on shellfish aquaculture despite an almost “insatiable” demand. Finger noted that after the Federally driven closure of the Drake’s Bay Oyster Company, one of the states largest producers, California production fell by over 22% with no immediate means of replacing that void because of the difficulty of expanding shellfish aquaculture due to the four year regulatory process required and many other limitations on accessing new farm sites. Greg noted that it is much easier to get a permit to grow recreational herbs in California than to get one for oyster farming.
Tony Vaught and Ken Beer described the diversity of species grown in California and the innovative applications of California, growing tilapia in geothermal springs, serving a live catfish market to ethnic consumers in both Northern and Southern California, and providing essentially all of the warm water recreational fish and a large part of the trout caught in California as well. Ken described the remarkable sturgeon and caviar production that has made California a major world caviar producer from an industry that grew from essentially nothing to what it is now in just 35 years.
Don Kent, President and CEO of Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute, made a compelling argument for creating a new marine finfish production industry, starting with the Hubbs/Cuna del Mar consortium that is planning a pilot cage culture facility 5 miles off the coast of San Diego. Don also presented materials provided by Steve Gaines, Dean of the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management in the UCSB Marine Science Institute, that strongly support the positive environmental effects of marine aquaculture and the suitability of the California coast to implement it. Don and Steve’s presentation was demonstrable evidence of the scientific feasibility of marine aquaculture in California.
Ken Beer’s statement summed up the theme of the JCFA: “Why import tilapia from Nicaragua when we can grow Striped Bass here?”
Recommendations Made at the JCFA
Perhaps the most important feature of the JCFA session, in accordance with Senator McGuire’s request, was that all of the presenters made concrete recommendations for the committee to consider as a means to promote and develop aquaculture in California. I took the liberty of consolidating the numerous recommendations made by the presenters into statements that combine related themes. They are “boiled down” to the following:
- The Marine PEIR, a document that is essential to permitting aquaculture in California coastal waters, has still not been completed 14 years since its enabling legislation and 11 years since production of the report was initiated. The lack of leadership to produce this report and other elements of a regulatory framework completely stifle marine aquaculture development and drive potential investment to foreign countries.
- Recommendation that the JCFA find and provide the resources to significantly upgrade the staff and other resources to support and encourage aquaculture, especially marine finfish production systems.
- Recognize that aquaculture is an essential food production system that, along with other agriculture, deserves promotion and protection because of its importance to California’s economy and the health and nutrition of consumers.
- In view of the hundreds of thousands of dollars needed to create an aquaculture business in California, the dialog between numerous agencies needs to be simplified and all permitting processes should be consolidated and streamlined. Directing the involved administrative agencies to coordinate a process for permitting is essential.
- Require in the governance of aquaculture that entities opposing aquaculture use unemotional and scientific evidence to support their positions. While this might not be possible to frame in a regulation, it should be considered as a matter of fairness to be encouraged as a principle.
- Allocating research funds for aquaculture to the California state university system, providing the essential scientific support and infrastructure to advance a sustainable aquaculture industry.
The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act
Hooray the drought is over! But the SGMA will be with us for the foreseeable future. CAA legal advisor, Lauren Bernadett deserves credit and applause for the great job she has done to communicate the workings of the SGMA to CAA members. We distributed Lauren’s comprehensive overview of the SGMA entitled Introduction to the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, August 2016 (click to view) to the entire membership by email. This introduction provides all the information needed to comprehend the basics of SGMA and the timeline for its implementation. The most important advice for our members is to recognize that the SGMA is governed by local agencies formed to implement SGMA. Once you find out what management agency covers your location, contact them and attend their meetings if you can. Another option is to join your local Farm Bureau, which has the resources of the California Farm Bureau to support the need of local farmers and inform them of what regulations are evolving within each of the local agencies. Lauren is available to us for counsel as SGMA issues evolve. Let us know if you have a need for your particular situation.
NAA and the US Fish and Wildlife Injurious Species Petition
The National Aquaculture Association is making a major sustained effort to counteract the recent action of FWS to list 43 potentially “injurious species” under the Lacey Act, a federal law that invokes felony charges for some violations. The law prohibits interstate transportation of listed species and has other regulatory implications.
The 43 species include 11 aquaculture species including Common Carp, Blue Catfish, 3 species of Tilapia (Blue, Nile, Mossambique), the Red Swamp Crayfish, and other carp species that are likely hybridized to the extent that they inextricably mixed with the Common Carp. These species have been cultured widely across many states for 50 to over 100 years. The US Fishery Commission stocked common Carp in the pond that preceded the reflecting pond in front of the Lincoln Memorial during the 1880’s. Blue Catfish genes are common to about 60% of the US catfish industry. If it didn’t have such serious implications for aquaculture, these actions would be laughably ridiculous but it is actually happening. It is not only these species that are in danger; almost any species might be selected for listing at the whim of some Federal bureaucrat.
We invited Paul Zaijak, Executive Director of the NAA to attend one of our board meetings, where he introduced this issue to our board. NAA regards the regulation as a serious threat to US aquaculture. We strongly agree and have expressed our support for the NAA position. Since being alerted to the issue by Paul we have had time to study the regulatory process by which species are listed. We find the process to be deeply flawed in logic and in scientific method and we are working with Paul, not only to express CAA support for NAA efforts to forestall the listing of these species but ultimately to get an exemption for aquaculture species in the FWS listing process. Lauren and I have been corresponding with Paul working on language to best counteract this overreaching and distorted policy.