The Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute is trying to build a massive fish farm off the San Diego coast, the most ambitious aquaculture project of its kind in the United States.
The ocean farm could ultimately raise about 11 million pounds of fish a year in cages about five miles off the coast.
But a much smaller Hubbs undertaking to breed fish has drawn the attention of environmentalists and state regulators, and not always in a good way. Over the past two decades, Hubbs has received $28 million from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife to run an experimental program to help restock the ocean with white seabass.
Fish spawned as part of that effort have horns, deformed hearts or are blind.
The state is now auditing the whole program. It’s unclear if it’s had any significant effect on the white seabass population, which was in decline because of pollution, overfishing and habitat destruction.
We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?
As a volunteer at Southwestern Yacht Club's White Seabass growout program, I can attest to the mis-reporting by Ry. Before the Fish and Wildlife biologist checks the fish health, Hubb's workers counts the fish and checks the health of every fish. We usually have over 2,000 fish in the pen and they will find 10 to 50 fish with bubble eye, ill health or minor deformities of which all 10 to 50 fish will be euthanized. Several days after that the Fish and Wildlife biologist will inspect the fish and approve for release.
Also the California State funds for the program comes exclusively from an Ocean Enhancement Stamp that ocean fishermen pays in addition to the regular licence fees. And as Bill Bradshaw stated, the White Seabass fishery is currently the best it has been in the last 30 years. We are proud to involved in the program.
Although Ry spent several hours at the hatchery, was given lots of information, he still proceeded to write a false and misleading article, for sensationalism, not journalism. Voice of San Diego is always looking for financial support for journalism, but allows this kind of opinionism. I may not want to support this organization.
As someone who was cited in Dr. Okihiro's email which you referenced, I need to make clear my initial question to Dr. Okhiro. He had quarantined a major part of the facility with a claim of a "possible" virus (VNN) that could be dangerous. However, he had tested (highly accurate DNA testing) for his suspected virus and the results were negative. He attempted to culture the possible virus with negative results. He then speculated about a possible new virus that affected only a few fish. Again, he had no evidence of a virus.
The mandated shutdown by Dr. Okhiro was effectively stopping hatchery production. A hatchery is like a long production line with different stages and ages. Stopping one stage stops everything, with all younger stages continuing to grow and become stressed from overcrowding. The only solution is to euthanize the whole batch of fish being quarantined, even if you see no mortality or overt disease.
His decision was costing the program 100's of thousands of dollars per month for many months. It's difficult to see his quarantine, if not justified by facts, as having been anything but a big waste of resources. I just wanted Dr. Okhiro to back up his claims with data.
In asking him for the data on which he based his costly intervention, I simply wanted that: the justification for the imposition of a quarantine. I certainly did not wish to call down his enmity upon Hubbs White Sea Bass Hatchery. Just the data, Dr. Okhiro. Just tell me the factual basis for your actions.
Agua Hedionda Lagoon literally translated is "Stinking Water Lagoon." It is at the outfall of massive agricultural runoff loaded with nasty chemicals; pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, hormones, and antibiotics. As bad as that is, it is not any worse than any California alternatives. And this is the massive reason for the declining numbers of wild spawned fish. We have turned our streams into open sewers.
I donated White Seabass (actually they are a species of
Croaker) to the breeding program. We caught them and kept them alive for
the breeding pens. It is doubtful that deformed fish from the breeding program will damage the overall population. They (I predict) are largely the result of developmental failure rather than actual genetic modification. And if they are less able to avoid the sea lions, they might even be useful surrogates.
The mortality rate in the wild is tremendous. The rather breathless pearl clutching by Ry Rivard exposed a remarkable naivete. A mature female Seabass will release tens of thousands of eggs every year. If even 1% survived we would be swamped in Seabass.
Dr. GS Hurd
Clearly, the authors have no idea about what they are talking about. They act surprised that sea lions eat released fish. Well did you know that sea lions eat wild fish too? What the hell kind of reporting is this.
You state some hatched fish are deformed? I think some reporters are deformed, not to mention wild fish.
I am intimately familiar with aquaculture and Hubbs has made significant contributions to this field. Just in case the authors do not know this, aquaculture has surpassed wild harvest and with wild harvest taking all it can (and often too much), only aquaculture can expand.
I would suggest that you ask Hubbs for its powerpoint presentation on offshore aquaculture and make it available to your readers. It details the issues of aquaculture, most of which were from early aquaculture, and solutions.
There are so many mistakes, misrepresentations, this article should be withdrawn.
Chris Elkins PhD
I don’t know what Hubbs Sea World is doing right or wrong, but SOMEOME has made a great success of the White Sea Bass breeding program. After a several year period where taking the fish was restricted while breeding and restocking on SoCal reefs and kelp beds took place, the fish have been back big time for over five years. Sport fisherman are catching huge fish; 30-50 pounders are common and some are bigger. And are they good eating! Hope I don’t get cancer.
People concerned about the health of our fisheries, as am I, might look at the steady increase in the population of seals and sea lions in west coast waters since they became protected in the early 70s. The population has steadily grown at an estimated 3% per year as large sharks have become threatened themselves. It’s claimed that these pinnipeds eat more fish in our waters than are taken by commercial and sports fishermen combined.
I'm happy to see this project being looked at by the VOSD, but slightly disappointed in the quality of the reporting. To be fair, the reporter should look to better contextualize the state of our oceans and the role aquaculture is playing and likely will play going forward. It's enormously difficult to convey science to the public, and this piece is a good example of that. I commend VOSD for taking this issue on, and look forward to future pieces that bring in more perspectives and broader context that can help readers learn how to think about this issue.
Personally, I take pride in San Diego being home to this type of experimentation, which is part of what makes San Diego a leader in what's being called the "blue technology" sector.
I disagree with Chris. I think this article was written more as a poorly informed opinion piece than as a with professional journalist integrity. I wish I had more time to go into in-depth details but this is certainly not the type of journalism I would expect from the Voice of San Diego. I understand that Ry probably does not have extensive knowledge of marine biology or marine fisheries but he probably could have contacted Hubbs-Seaworld for more information into the concerns raised in this article. If HSW was not available I am sure another well renowned organization like Sea Center Texas could have provided some relevant information.
Most of the complaints about the health of the fish are naturally occurring and one can not expect every egg to become a perfect specimen. As it is hard for us to personally to observe the White Sea Bass in its habitat lets take a look at a species that is well known, the human. Have you known anyone with autism, arthritis, aids, Alzheimer's, aneurysm, blindness, cancer, crones, celiac, down syndrome, deafness, etc.
It comes down to the fish stocks are a fraction of what they once were and what they could be, pollution and over fishing has taken its toll. The solution is stop the pollution, limit fishing and keep predators from eating the eggs and juveniles. At $1,000,000 a year that is a bargain that is much more economical that raising any other livestock.
I do thank you from bringing to my attention of Coast Keepers involvement. Sometimes I do not have the time to research which organizations are worth of my donations and Coast Keeper will no longer be on my list. I hope the editor of this publication can realize that if they want to keep their funding on the basis of being an in depth, professionally written news source; they will need to do better.
@Jonathan Chapin Thanks for reading. Here's a link to Hubbs' quality assessment/quality control manual, which was provided to me by Hubbs and which spells out some of the external deformities (and injuries) they've identified in their fish, what some of their causes might be and what should be done when a fish with such a deformity is identified at the hatchery. https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/2691598-QAQCWSBMalformManual-00000002.html
Great article! It's unclear to me though if Mr. Kent was afforded a chance to respond to the criticism directly?
@Chris Brewster Thanks for reading. Yes, I sat down last week at the hatchery with Don Kent, Pamela Yochem and a couple other Hubbs representatives. I also traded emails with Hubbs staff before and after that meeting.
Mr. Rivard: Thank you. It's unclear to me from the article if he disputes the key elements of the article? His response seems awfully muted considering the flaming email from him you attached vis-a-vis Mr. Okihiro.
Has anyone bothered to check the water for radiation levels? All that 'investigative reporting' and no one mentions Fukushima! What with all the other problems lately with sea life dying at unprecedented rates, when are you going to consider the obvious? Anyone been to the seashore lately? It used to be loaded with shore birds. Not anymore....
The chief factor I find lacking is the absence of any benefit to society in the Hubbs experiments.
Wisdom of the California Fish & Wildlife Department to prolong this disaster must also be considered.
Ry Rivard and Coastkeeper have revealed a failure of Public Trust in safeguarding our ocean and food supply.