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Earthjustice: Stop the USA’s Largest Factory-Farm Aquaculture Project

Earthjustice will research the legal options to counter the proposed Rose Canyon Fisheries off the coast of San Diego, which would be the world’s largest aquaculture factory-farm. The project’s own proponents acknowledge that it will likely lead to “oxygen depletion in surrounding waters, degradation of benthic ecosystems, and the potential exacerbation of toxic algal blooms” (among other harms) in biologically important areas for endangered species near state marine protected areas.

The potential environmental damage is compounded by shortcomings, loopholes and uncertainties in the regulatory framework for aquaculture that the project is designed to exploit. Though California has regulations for aquaculture projects in State waters, by siting their project in federal waters, the proponents have sought to evade California’s jurisdiction and oversight. The impacts however, cannot be expected to stop at the state boundary. Furthermore, there are no federal regulations to guide such a project. Though the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) recently proposed rules to manage aquaculture projects in the Gulf of Mexico, there are no such rules for the Pacific coast.

As the first major offshore finfish aquaculture development in federal waters on the West Coast, this project will set a precedent for future proposals; and despite this, it is currently not getting the broader attention such a first-of-its-kind proposal merits. It is therefore vital that the public ensure that the agencies involved get this right and protect these rich coastal waters from the impacts of this industrial activity.

We see an important opportunity to shape how the federal and state governments consider this proposal — and future similar applications. We will address the permitting of this project in two stages. First, we will research and detail the legal requirements that apply to permitting of this facility. This initial scoping phase will examine both state and federal substantive and procedural provisions, including permitting provisions of the Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act (including for discharge of pollutants into U.S. and effects on listed species like marine mammals in the area), National Environmental Policy Act, Coastal Zone Management Act, California’s Sustainable Oceans Act, and the Magnuson-Stevens Act to develop and present a picture of the legal landscape and the applicable legal hooks that could be utilized to either prevent the project from being developed, or limit and mitigate its scope and environmental impact.

Assuming this scoping phase identifies viable legal handles, we will move to a second phase to more fully develop and implement legal advocacy tools to push the agencies to address the significant impacts. This phase is likely to begin with commenting and building the record during project permitting, but would also include working with partner organizations to develop legal strategies and tactics to prevent this potentially damaging project from moving forward in the absence of a clear and effective regulatory framework.

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