Q&A: Phil Cruver, KZO Sea Farms

By

Steven Hedlund

Published on
July 17, 2012

Phil Cruver, president of KZO Sea Farms, has just received a provisional permit from the Army Corps of Engineers to establish a 100-acre bivalve farm 4.5 miles off the coast of Long Beach, Calif. If approved, it would be the first commercial offshore shellfish farm in federal waters amid a new regulatory process.

SeafoodSource caught up with Cruver to talk about the process of obtaining the permits to set up the operation and about his hope to expand to the farm to 1,000 acres. 

Editor’s note: KZO Sea Farms will be featured in the August issue of SeaFood Business. Check the “Going Green” column when the magazine arrives early next month. 

Hedlund: The permitting process for fish farms in federal waters is lengthy and daunting, because there’s no federal regulatory framework in place. However, just over a year ago, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released its national marine aquaculture policy to guide the agency’s fish-farming activities. Did this policy help KZO Sea Farms? 

Cruver: The policy did indeed help since our project supports the goals of NOAA’s National Shellfish Initiative, which is to increase commercial shellfish aquaculture while improving ecosystem health. Furthermore, the National Aquaculture Act of 1980, which applies to all federal agencies, states that it is “in the national interest, and it is the national policy, to encourage the development of aquaculture in the United States.”  Moreover, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: “When properly sited, operated and maintained, commercial shellfish aquaculture activities generally result in minimal adverse effects on the aquatic environment and in many cases provide environmental benefits by improving water quality and wildlife habitat, and providing nutrient cycling functions.”

There are a handful of NGOs opposed to offshore aquaculture. But KZO Sea Farms’ project received only one negative comment during the Corp of Engineers’ public comment period. Did that surprise you? 

Not really, because it is generally accepted that shellfish cultivation is the only sustainable form of aquaculture and has no negative impact on the environment. Also, prior to the public comment period, we posted letters of support by respected shellfish scientists and practitioners from across the globe. A legitimate NGO organization would be hard-pressed to challenge these reputable specialists. Most have PhDs and possess positive empirical data for refuting negative conjecture.

Even Food & Water Watch has a brochure posted on its website promoting shellfish aquaculture with this headline: “Carefully located, well designed oyster, mussel and clam farms could help achieve the goal of expanding U.S. seafood production, while also providing food for health conscious, environmentally concerned consumers.”

Furthermore, as a result of our nonprofit KZO Education’s work over the past years developing oyster restoration, nutrient bivalve bioextraction research and other ecology projects, the KZO brand has a solid track record and reputation for environmental stewardship. 

What are the advantages of growing mussels and oysters 9 miles offshore as opposed to inshore?  

In contrast to shellfish typically harvested from intertidal bays and estuaries, this project presents a new paradigm for cultivation in pristine waters of the open ocean. Offshore shellfish farms are showing higher growth rates, better meat yields and heavier production compared with inshore farms. This is attributed to lower stress from unpolluted water and constant currents of dense phytoplankton providing the shellfish with abundant food for rapid growth. 

What are the drawbacks? Are production costs higher offshore than inshore? 

We have not developed an economic comparison of offshore vis-à-vis inshore; however, in order for the U.S. to make a meaningful reduction in shellfish imports, it will have to farm offshore. The recent National Academy of Sciences report Ecosystem Concepts for Sustainable Bivalve Mariculture “suggests that the United States could triple domestic production of shellfish to more than 300,000 metric tons per year (live weight) by 2025; in volume terms this could displace all current shellfish imports.” There is not enough inshore space appropriate for farming 600 million pounds of shellfish. Americans have two choices: Continue to import thereby increasing the deficit. Or grow our own offshore, which would create jobs by producing a local supply of healthy shellfish. 

For the pilot project, what types of shellfish will KZO Sea Farms raise, and how much of each type does the company plan to raise? 

We will initially be cultivating Pacific oysters and Mediterranean mussels, and 100 acres of cultivation equipment can annually produce about 500,000 pounds of mussels and 500,000 oysters. 

Will KZO Sea Farms’ shellfish be marketed to distributors, retailers and restaurants? If so, when will the product hit the market? 

We intend to market our shellfish to distributors, retailers and restaurants serving 22.4 million people populating Southern California. Market data show strong demand for sustainable shellfish from a growing “green” demographic of environmentally conscious consumers having a preference for fresh, locally produced seafood. As a result of warmer water temperatures and the abundance of phytoplankton (attributed to upwelling in the 130,000-acre San Pedro Basin where the project is located) the shellfish will reach harvest size in less than a year. 

KZO’s shellfish farm will be the first in federal waters off the California coast. What’s the significance of that? Are you hopeful that the United States will begin to realize the economic and environmental benefits of offshore shellfish aquaculture and that more offshore shellfish farms will begin to pop up around the country? 

The significance is that this pioneering project will be rigorously monitored to provide science-based data and best practices for the development of subsequent shellfish farms. This data will be important for allocating the massive ocean space of the 100,000-square-mile Southern California Bight for human economic and recreational needs not conflicting with marine life and ocean ecology. By showcasing responsible solutions, California could assume a leadership role in the fastest-growing global food industry. 

Offshore shellfish cultivation in U.S. federal waters is in the public interest. It will increase jobs and reduce America’s USD 10 billion seafood trade deficit with no negative environmental impact. What’s not to like?

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