A California yellowtail. Courtesy Hubbs-Seaworld Research Institute

A social-benefit investment group working with prestigious Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute announced plans to open the first fish farm for California yellowtail in federal waters off San Diego.

Pacific Ocean AquaFarms plans to initially raise and harvest 1,000 metric tons of yellowtail annually, scaling up over several years to 5,000 metric tons after proving the environmental and economic sustainability. The fish they plan to raise is a sought-after sport fish that has a buttery texture and is known as Hamachi in sushi.

Aquaculture is at a crucial inflection point,” said Donald Kent, president & CEO of Hubbs-Seaworld. “Scientific and technical advances have addressed past concerns about negative impacts. And, as the single most sustainable and fastest-growing food production sector in the world, aquaculture must grow in the U.S.”

The World Resources Institute has stated that aquaculture is the most sustainable form of animal food production in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. According to a 2018 United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization report, wild fishery stocks cannot sustainably yield more production, so “aquaculture must bridge the growing gap between supplies of aquatic food and demand from a growing and wealthier population.”

The new project is backed by Pacific6 Enterprises, a Long Beach-based partnership committed to helping launch and grow socially beneficial ventures. Among its founding partners is John Molina, formerly the chief financial officer of Molina Healthcare, a Fortune 200 organization.

“We see this as a game changer for the U.S., which today imports the vast majority of its seafood, half of which is farmed,” said Robert Gordon, a founding partner at Pacific6. “Our project will show how aquaculture, subject to our nation’s stringent environmental and food safety standards, will be done right.”

Environmental review of the project is expected to take 18 to 24 months. Construction of pens located four nautical miles off San Diego should take one year, with two years required to raise the first crop of fish. Commercial-scale harvesting will then begin and grow over several years to full production.

Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.