Historically, four types of commercial mariculture have been attempted along the shores of what is presently the Sanctuary. As early as the 19th century Chinese immigrants burned intertidal patches around the Monterey Peninsula to allow for red algal recruitment, which was then harvested for food. The 1960s and 1970s saw two short-lived oyster growing projects &endash; one at Pigeon Point and one in Elkhorn Slough; the latter eventually failed due to water quality concerns. A project to raise sea hares in holding tanks along the edge of Elkhorn Slough lasted about ten years. Abalone &endash; particularly red abalone &endash; was first maricultured in the Sanctuary in the 1960s at the Pigeon Point site that had been growing oysters. Another facility for abalone existed from the 1960s through the 1980s along Monterey's Cannery Row.
Mariculture within the Sanctuary currently consists of three abalone facilities: one in Davenport and two in Monterey (see details, below). The abalone in the pens are fed kelp that is hand-harvested from nearshore kelp beds.
Despite its glamour and the high prices for some products, aquaculture is "farming" and has similar pitfalls associated with its land-based cousin. Further, aquaculture is not a panacea that can replace fisheries with no side-effects, as many people believe. Aquaculture has its own suite of associated issues that need to be managed to ensure problems don't arise. Examples include competing uses of nearshore areas and resources to feed the species grown (such as kelp to feed the abalone) and the potential for contaminated or biologically detrimental effluent discharge and introduced diseases and parasites.
While the Sanctuary retains authority under its Management Plan to regulate aquaculture, it also recognizes the historical authority of the California Department of Fish and Game to manage that issue, and at the present time prefers to work through that authority rather than issue its own regulation.
Abalone are commercially farmed using two main methods. The first is at a land-based site where the animal is grown in trough tanks known as raceways. These sites must be located adjacent to the ocean and pump seawater into the facility. The second method is referred to as in-the-sea farming. Here, the farmer uses barrels or cages designed specifically for growing abalone.
All three of the registered abalone farms in the Sanctuary have been in operation for over eight years. Two of the three (Monterey Abalone Company and Pacific Abalone Farms, both in Monterey) are in-the-sea operations; the other (US Abalone, in Davenport) is land-based. The size and structure of these three farms range from a sole proprietorship operating with less than 10,000 abalone to a public company with over two million abalone and a dozen employees. These local growers actively participate in the regional tourism industry by supplying abalone to local restaurants. Local abalone are also shipped throughout North America and the world.
Abalone is rare among cultured animals in that every part can be marketed: the meat is eaten; the shells are sold for jewelry, ornaments, and souvenirs; and the viscera are processed and sold as fish food for the aquarium trade. Finally, the production of abalone pearls appears to hold exciting promise: a single gem-quality pearl may bring fifty times the price that the same abalone would garner if sold without a pearl.
Despite the promising potential of aquaculture in the Sanctuary, numerous challenges face entrepreneurs vying to start up their own operation. These include finding a suitable coastal site with good water quality, obtaining the necessary permits, developing the technology, obtaining substantial capital, maintaining the facility and animals, and the potential for user conflicts.
A recent study determined that only twenty-seven hectares of California's 1,100-mile coastline are currently used for aquaculture.(3) Less than two hectares are currently used for aquaculture (by the three companies mentioned above) within the Sanctuary, a number which is unlikely to increase much as there are very few suitable sites available for aquaculture.
Abalone farming is a relatively clean and environmentally friendly industry, especially where water quality is concerned. For example, at US Abalone, our water samples to the California Regional Water Quality Control Board for the past five years have consistently shown that the water we discharge to the Sanctuary is cleaner than the water we bring in.
As many of our state fisheries are in decline, we must examine alternatives to our traditional means of providing seafood. Aquaculture &endash; farming the sea &endash; is not the sole solution to our fishery problems, but it offers an important alternative to help manage many of our already overexploited marine species.
-David A. Ebert, Ph. D.,
The Department's primary responsibility in managing aquaculture is to ensure that it is conducted in ways that do not harm the state's native wildlife or associated habitats. Many other agencies also have a significant role in determining how aquaculture activities are conducted through their permitting authority. For example, the Department of Health Services enforces the Health and Safety Code sections related to the growing, processing, and marketing of aquaculture product for human consumption. The State Land Commission serves as a clearinghouse for land use agreements, which can include leases of state water bottom for aquaculture purposes (however, actual leases are approved by the Fish and Game Commission). The California Coastal Commission has oversight responsibility for development within the coastal zone and sees that the development of aquaculture conforms to Coastal Act policies. The State Water Resources Control Board determines if waste discharge requirements are necessary to ensure that aquaculture practices do not affect groundwater quality.
While not comprehensive, the list of permitting authorities also includes the U.S. Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the Department of Food and Agriculture. In addition, the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary is an active participant in the decision-making processes by providing comment on permit applications in those areas where it has a concern and permitting some facilities within the Sanctuary.
At the day-to-day level, the Department manages aquaculture activities through issuance of annually renewed Aquaculture Registrations. Within the marine environment, the applications are reviewed by a team of biologists, wardens, and pathologists to see that the specific activity will not have a detrimental impact on native wildlife or habitat. The Department's team also considers importation permit and broodstock collection permit applications from the same perspective. Finally, the Department inspects aquaculture facilities and shipments of products to ensure they are disease-free.
The many levels of permitting required to approve new aquaculture activity is a complex process offering considerable opportunity for public participation. Within that larger picture, the Department seeks to balance its interest in encouraging the development of aquaculture with its charge of protecting wildlife resources.
- Fred Wendell and Jerry Spratt,
1 Fisheries of the United States, 1997 (NOAA)
2 Personal communication from Justin Malan, Executive Director of the California Aquaculture Association.
3 Susan McBride. "Current Status of Abalone Aquaculture in the Californias," Journal of Shellfish Research, 1998, vol. 17, No. 3, pp. 593-600.
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