Once home to the nation’s busiest tuna canneries and a Japanese American fishing village, Terminal Island is decades away from the thriving seafood industry of its past. But thanks to Catalina Sea Ranch, a pioneering research and business venture, that stretch of land between San Pedro and Long Beach is now at the forefront of sustainable aquaculture in the U.S. While the company’s offices and research facilities are housed in a sprawling historic warehouse — part of the Port of L.A.’s new AltaSea marine research campus — the real action is taking place roughly six miles off shore. There, just below the ocean’s surface, is a 100-acre shellfish “ranch” — the first offshore aquaculture facility in federal waters. And while Catalina Sea Ranch is currently farming mussels, they are researching how also growing giant kelp could help reduce greenhouse gas emissions in a significant way.
The ranch is currently growing an initial pilot crop of around 30,000 lbs of mussels that will soon be harvested from dozens of specially designed ropes. Catalina Sea Ranch is also developing and utilizing innovative marine technologies — including remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) with underwater cameras and a network of sensors — to monitor the crop and collect environmental data to ensure a minimal to zero impact on the local ecosystem. The Mediterranean mussels grown by Catalina Sea Ranch are ranked as a “best choice” for sustainable seafood options by organizations such as the Seafood Watch Program, as the filter-feeding mollusks require no supplemental feed since upwelling from the deep ocean provide a steady supply of nutrients. The company is also researching how best to grow other low-impact — and highly profitable — shellfish such as scallops and possibly oysters. And while the company aims to expand the ranch to 1000 acres and 20 million lbs annually — helping to offset the high percentage of seafood that is imported to the U.S. — Catalina Sea Ranch also has its sights set on expanding its research and design efforts to growing giant kelp, which can help offset greenhouse gas emissions in a variety of ways.