New fish farm for Humboldt

By Jenny Lavell
Flapjack Chronicle

Good news for seafood fans — Humboldt Bay is getting a new, sustainable fish farm. In June, a grant application was submitted to the Headwaters Fund to support the creation of the Humboldt Aquaculture Innovative Center Pilot Facility (HAIC). The recently accepted $70,000 grant will go to building and maintaining the facility, monitoring its progress, and employing two HAIC staff members.

Aquaculture is the practice of farming any water-based organism. Though more sustainable than some of the current fisheries, aquaculture has many issues. There’s usually a lot of waste associated with the practice that in turn causes diseases in the farmed and natural populations. Innovative aquaculture tries to rectify this problem. Innovative aquaculture uses shellfish and algae to take up the waste produced by the fish. This creates a more sustainable and low-impact system while also making it a multi-product business.

Project leaders have chosen the Samoa pulp mill site as the primary location for the project.  Samoa will likely benefit extensively. The presence of this facility would stimulate the economy if it gets local support. Many will be hired to build the pilot facility. For a year, two HAIC staff will run the pilot facility. And if it succeeds, many more will be hired to expand and run the full facility.

What’s more, the project fits right in with Humboldt’s claim to being a one of the most productive shellfish culturing areas in California. The facility will provide farmed fish, shellfish and algae.

Doctor Christine Cass is a professor at Humboldt State who has lectured on aquaculture.

“Done correctly,” Cass said, “aquaculture can be a relatively resource-effective way to generate food for people. It could provide additional local jobs for facility management. It might also lead to a reduction in fishing pressure on wild populations which may be overfished locally.”

But not everyone buys into the idea of farmed fish. Here in Humboldt County we can get fish in three different ways. We can go to the supermarket like most of America. We can go to the docks and buy straight from the fishermen. Or we can go catch the fish ourselves.

There are catches to each option. If we try to fish directly, what are the regulations and the fishing seasons? If we go to the docks, did they use sustainable practices? If we go to Safeway, is the fish wild-caught or farmed?

Rachel Stusiak, an avid fish eater, was asked how she felt about farmed fish.

“I try to buy wild-caught,” Stusiak said. “I won’t buy farmed salmon. I’m not very informed but my family didn’t support that. It doesn’t taste the same.”

Cass is also wary of the aquaculture expansion.

“It involves too many environmental impacts which most aquaculture setups are not forced to adequately address,” Cass said. “The current plan is for an integrated system, which does recycle the waste products produced by higher trophic level aquaculture species to grow lower level species, like algaes. However, I have not seen any information yet on how they plan to address the other common pitfalls of aquaculture, including where the ultimate food source will come from, how they plan to deal with diseases, and what species they
plan to grow in the region.”

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