California Oil Platforms, the Unlikely Broodnest for Local Aquafarmers

The phrase California ranching brings to mind a classic Steinbeck inspired scene of cattle roaming a grassy expanse towards the open horizon. It’s a wonderful thought, but any modern Californian, or at least anyone who has driven the 5 freeway between LA and San Francisco, knows that the days of ranching on a wide open plain are over. In fact, the millennial California rancher may not be terrestrial at all. Aqua farmers at Catalina Sea Ranch are breaking the mold and taking ranching to a place Steinbeck never could have imagined, out to sea.

Currently, according to NOAA, the United States has a $10.4 billion seafood trade deficit that continues to grow. However, Catalina Sea Ranch President and CEO, Phil Cruver, believes he has found a way to combat this shellfish trade deficit using a method of shellfish farming that also addresses the environmental and sustainability challenges of traditional aquaculture.

Typically aquaculture takes place near shore, in bays and estuaries, and often displaces valuable natural wetlands. Further complications include invasive organisms, pollution from urban runoff, and predation. To preserve California’s valuable nearshore habitats and avoid these other complications, Catalina Sea Ranch takes its aqua farms miles offshore. Their first site takes up 100 acres on the San Pedro Shelf—a large underwater plateau about 150 feet to 200 feet deep that quickly drops off to about 3,000 feet, creating natural upwelling that delivers an abundance of nutrient-rich phytoplankton from the deeper water.

The technology is ground breaking, using a series of anchor buoys and ropes to cultivate the shellfish. The anchor buoys are made of fiber-reinforced high-density polyethylene and are pressurized with air. Cruver said, “This is a new technology, and they’re guaranteed to last 20 years, so you won’t find them washing up on the beach —> Read More