A group of California fishermen and activists in San Diego on Tuesday protested Pacific Ocean AquaFarms' proposed offshore yellowtail farm, citing its potential to harm the local economy as well as the environment.
The offshore floating farm, which would be the first of its kind in California federal waters if approved, would take up around 323 acres and would include 28 submersible pens, anchors and mooring lines, and surface marker buoys, according to NOAA.
The government agency said the project would initially produce 1,000 metric tons of yellowtail (Seriola dorsalis) annually and up to 5,000 metric tons if allowed to grow to full scale.
Pacific Ocean AquaFarms is a collaboration between Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute (HSWRI) and California-based investment firm Pacific6, which is underwriting the project. Among its six founding partners is John Molina, formerly the CFO of Molina Healthcare.
The protestors, which include local fishermen as well as Phillip Musegaas, executive director of San Diego Coastkeeper, are asking Hubbs-SeaWorld President and Pacific Ocean AquaFarms CEO Don Kent to withdraw his technical support of the project.
Pete Halmay, a sea urchin fisherman who represents the San Diego Fishermen’s Working Group, joined anti-salmon farming NGO Don't Cage Our Oceans Coalition organizer Jake Schwartz in an op-ed for the San Diego Tribune in January asking US President Joe Biden to oppose the project.
The two stated the project would "release antibiotics, pesticides and other chemicals" into the Pacific Ocean, adding the ocean pens would harm marine species such as the endangered monk seals and humpback whales as they are 98.4-feet wide and 46-feet deep.
They added the president has continued to support detrimental Trump-era policies toward offshore aquaculture, and referred to an executive order signed in 2020, which designated NOAA as the lead agency for coordinating US offshore aquaculture permits.
The Pacific Ocean Aquafarms project will initially only harvest yellowtail, which is native to California, and could later produce white seabass (Atractoscion nobilis) when it is operational under federal and state permit requirements.
NOAA is currently developing an environmental impact statement (EIS) for the project, and is still considering whether it will locate the project at a site off San Diego or at an alternative site off Long Beach, California, the agency's officials told the La Jolla Light. That process has been ongoing since 2020.
"HSWRI will continue to respect and defer to the EIS process and the regulatory agencies to address concerns, evaluate potential environmental impacts and make determinations regarding the respective permits required for the project," Pacific Ocean AquaFarms said in a statement to IntraFish following the protest.
The company noted the environmental impact review is already "extensive and comprehensive."