Meeting Minutes: Ventura Shellfish Enterprise on July 9

Brian Pendleton, Oscar Pena and Doug Bush spoke on behalf of the Ventura Shellfish Enterprise. About 20 fishermen attended, as well as a couple reps from relevant agencies. 

Meeting Summary (in my view)

Overall, the meeting met the goal of hearing from VSE on their plan and motivations, and giving local fishermen a chance to provide input and raise concerns. Fishermen described two possible locations in State waters that the trawlers would support for siting the 2000 acre development. Would VSE consider moving back into a State permitting process at this point? They gave no indication. I need to follow up with them to get an answer to that. I We ran out of time to cover all the ground that I hoped to, partly because too much time was spent on extraneous information, e.g. details of the Port of Ventura’s budgetary needs. I will also continue pressing for more answers on how and when fishermen’s input on siting will be considered in the Federal permitting process. So, standby for more info soon.

Meeting Minutes

The VSE presentation:

1. overview of the goals tackled by the Sea Grant funded 3 year scoping project that is wrapping up now. Goals are:

  • Develop strategic plans for navigating permitting pathways for any new aquaculture projects in State and Federal waters
  • Develop templates for engaging in outreach and education on new aquaculture projects
  • Develop the permit application needed for moving ahead with the VSE

See the VSE website for the content of their presentation. Most of it was not highly relevant to our concerns.

Why is the project so big? There aim is to use economy of scale and allow many small operators to be viable by sharing infrastructure and biotoxin testing, monitoring.  2000 acres is still small in the world of open ocean shellfish aquaculture.

VSE developed rough business plans for how a single farmer can make a profit - available on the website.

They are currently looking to site the 2000 acres within a 200,000 acre stretch of the Federal Waters off Ventura. There are specific siting constraints: Need to be far from outfall of rivers due to pollution. Can’t be on top of oil and gas infrastructure. Depth 80-120 range. Close to Ventura port. They received feedback from fishermen to minimize spread of the 20 plots to reduce interference with fishing, so they will cluster the plots.

Current phase they are in is to analyze the siting options and to submit the permit application.

Env. Studies are being done now to evaluate impact of the project to Essential Fish Habitat and Endangered Species, etc. This is a component of the Sea Grant grant,

Army Corp, NMFS, USFWS, and CCC are the key agencies. Army Corp is the lead.

Timeline: End of august aim to get permit in. Fourth quarter 2018 they will have meetings with agency staff to review permit data needs. Then deploy sentinels. In 2019, do public comment and receive the draft permits.

VSE is in the process of building data layers for the 200,000 acre zone in the fed waters. They are developing an AIS heat map for trawlers they got from the Dept. showing intensity of effort. They realize these data have drawbacks: it doesn’t show fishing success or seasonal variation, etc.  They are looking for techniques to rate the adverse impact of various siting alternatives. They would like to add AIS for purse seiners, etc. Drift nets – very hard to get the data on value of grounds and frequency of use.

Q&A section

Question – do they have a mitigation plan for offsetting their impact to fishing? No, not yet. Its on the table for consideration.

VSE is doing a siting analysis with NOAA right now. There are 13 total aquaculture projects in Federal waters nationwide getting underway with a permitting process. All the rest are private big money finfish projects.

Question: Would a leasee of a VSE plot be able to opportunitistically switch from farming mussels to kelp as the environmental conditions fluctuate? No. They are keeping their permitting process as simple as possible by only pursuing shellfish.

Comment- Current area they’ve picked is horrible for weather. Its on the edge of a bank that intensifies  the current and waves there. Also very high conflict for fishing. 6 gear types fish there.

Comment: McCorkle, on behalf of the So Cal Trawlers, proposed a specific area within the State Halibut trawl grounds where no one catches a lot of fish.  Its outside and east of Ecomar’s lease, out to 3 miles.

Question: What is the goal on profit? Can you pass some profit on to the commercial fishermen who are displaced?

Income from VSE to the Port will come from slip fees, offloading fees, rent from new biotoxin monitoring shops. Army Corp dredging is a 6 mill annual cost that this income will contribute to covering.

Comment: A fisherman proposed another possible site: right south of Point Mugu has no fishing, sewer or river pollution. Others thought it might be too deep there?

Question: Are there lessons to be learned from how some of the large farms in New Zealand dealt with mitigation to fishermen when they were sited? Same with New England? Catalina Sea Ranch?  Answer: Mitigation info is not available but it is possible to inquire.

Comment: There will be benefits to having 20 more users of the ocean – the subleases of the plots. This will provide new opportunities for next generation of fishermen.

Comment: It will be very difficult for you to understand and quantify the impacts to fishing. Use of AIS is very rare. VMS is common. There are guys fishing that area right now that you don’t know about.

Question: What’s the concern with shallower waters – less than 80 feet? Answer: the Mediterranean mussel babies have very thin shells and so are very susceptible to predation by ducks.  Maybe could grow out the babies elsewhere? Even so, any site less than 50’ depth will be devastated by swell.

Comment: VSE would like to be able to scale slowly, put some lines out and experiment with best location. This is not feasible with the process. Process is broken.

Comment: Shellfish farming is a sustainable harvest and that gives it a solid future. Be grateful to the bureaucrats for dealing with all the red tape of the permitting process.

Comment: VSE will get corporate interests want to lease plots, not fishermen.  Response: they can consider multi-farmer partnerships to break up a few of the single 100 acre plot. A plot can be phased intp use with 1 grow line at a time.  The group permiting process allows that scaling up carefully.

Note from Mike Conroy by email: “In the case of Catalina Sea Ranch, we were able to get the CA Coastal Commission to include a requirement that before construction, CSR prepare “a Lost/Damaged Fishing Gear Compensation Plan” that outlines the steps that would be taken by KZO to address any adverse impacts to commercial or recreational fishing operations that may result from the loss and/or damage of fishing gear or catch due to contact or entanglement with the shellfish cultivation facility or associated infrastructure.  The Coastal Commission Report may be helpful - https://documents.coastal.ca.gov/reports/2014/1/w16a-1-2014.pdf

Note from Jonathan Gonzalez by email: “Senator Wicker’s AQUAA Act was introduced a week ago: https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/115/s3138   In the language of the bill I count 4 references to minimizing effects to existing fishing operations. Depending on the timing of VSE and the potential passage of this bill in the future, perhaps there could be a precedent/preemption.”