California has often been a crucible for innovation. Whether it be in science, business, the arts or technology, an idea for a new endeavor has always had always found willing ears in the Golden State.
In that spirit the California Coastal Commission has unanimously put its stamp of approval on a business plan to develop the first shellfish ranch in federal waters nearly 10 miles off the California coast near Long Beach.
If successful, it could provide a template for the nation to help overcome what has become a $10 billion seafood trade deficit.
An outfit called Catalina Sea Ranch plans to use some fascinating technology to establish and develop a 100-acre underwater plot for cultivating shellfish. Among other things, it hopes to harvest about 2.6 million pounds of Mediterranean mussels each year.
Scientists at UC Davis' marine laboratory also have collaborated with colleagues at USC and Cal State Long Beach to help the company design a breeding ground for California rock scallops, which are high-value items.
The company believes it can fashion a brand that will satisfy a significantly growing market for frozen mussels in China while also giving environmentally conscious California consumers an opportunity to eat more homegrown shellfish.
We are all for both ideas as long as the process can be done in a manner that does not further degrade our struggling oceans.
But Phil Cruver, the company's CEO, told the Los Angeles Times that the ranching operation would actually be good for the ocean. He explained that mussels, oysters and scallops feed on plankton and other microbes so they actually help clean the ocean's water as they eat.
We support this effort in part because the state requires regular scientific tests for purity of the site's waters.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has long stressed that putting more shellfish back in U.S. waters would improve the overall marine environment. This plan seems aimed directly at that goal.
There are plenty of shellfish farms in protected areas along the coast, but Cruver said yields there can be restricted because of the cyclical nature of tides while an open-water operation would have no such encumbrance and that open-water operations avoid infestation by parasites that are more prevalent in more inland waters.
This operation also has an advantage over shellfish harvesting on the East Coast and the Gulf Coast because California does not experience hurricanes, which, in some years, have devastated the shellfish industry in those other coastal areas.
All in all, we agree with the California Coastal Commission that this is a worthy enterprise that could offer substantial benefits to the state.