Permitting Roadmap Eases Way for Aquaculture and Shellfish Restoration

Ventura Port District (District) is undertaking a collaborative effort to implement a permitting roadmap to bring sustainably cultivated shellfish operations to Ventura Harbor. Though there is great demand for locally sourced seafood that doesn’t harm the environment, the regulatory permitting path to allow an aquaculture operation can be difficult to discern.

Successful aquaculture offers opportunities to grow sustainable seafood; improve working waterfronts; and restore and enhance marine species, demonstrating that protection of the environment, improvement of commerce, and yielding to market demand are not mutually exclusive goals. Understanding the goals of all stakeholders, and having the knowledge, skills, and abilities to carry out streamlined permitting processes are crucial for ports that wish to expand their services into the aquaculture industry.

Aquaculture Permitting Roadmap

President Obama’s National Ocean Policy (NOP) introduced eight new actions to protect and preserve the ocean, one of which was a call to encourage domestic shellfish farming and establish a roadmap to successful permitting. If the District’s initiative is successful, state and federal aquaculture coordinators would like to use this collaborative effort as the roadmap to streamlined permitting for California aquaculture.

The NOP outlines that the roadmap should “help shellfish farmers understand how to secure the permits they need and…help federal agencies identify ways to improve efficiency in the permitting process.”

David Wickens, Dudek regulatory specialist, said “This is an exciting opportunity to help create a comprehensive roadmap for the permitting process that can support coastal ecology and enable shellfish farmers to tap into the ever-growing demand for sustainable, healthy, locally produced seafood. It’s a rare win-win.” Steps to successful permitting for aquaculture operations include the following:

  • Clearly define the proposed operation;
  • Understand permitting and environmental reviews the proposal will trigger;
  • Engage the resource agencies and stakeholders;
  • Consolidate agency requirements and needs; and
  • Enable decisions that are fair, reasonable, timely, and protect the aquatic environment.

A clear permitting roadmap can promote consistency and certainty pursuant to permitting requirements. This certainty enables a more comprehensive perspective on the protection and management of California’s coastal and estuarine waters, and more efficient coordination with resource agencies and stakeholders, removing extraneous, duplicate planning effort. Using a roadmap can bring clarity to an unclear and complicated process, resulting in a more economical path to project success.

Ventura Aquaculture Pilot Program

The District proposed to develop an aquaculture permitting strategy among the federal, state, and local regulatory entities, and initiate an efficient California Environmental Quality Act process. These actions would support submittal of aquaculture permit applications to agencies such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Regional Water Quality Control Board.

In order to undertake this strategy, a Sea Grant Fund was needed, which would enable the District’s aquaculture endeavor to contract with qualified consultants. In July 2015, the District’s Board of Commissioners was awarded a $300,000 grant. Working with the District and other stakeholders, Dudek environmental planners are now in the process of preparing a permitting and environmental clearance strategy.

“Government entitlements are the single highest hurdle to sustainable seafood cultivation,” said Ev Ashworth, Ventura Port Commissioner. “This project will provide a permit template that can be applied to other areas of the California coast to help the state reach its goals for increased shellfish production to provide a sustainably-raised domestic food supply.”


David Wickens has 22 years’ professional experience as a regulatory specialist in Northern California, New Mexico, and the Midwest, and has reviewed numerous complex and controversial permit applications under the Clean Water Act and the Rivers and Harbors Act. For more information, contact him at dwickens@dudek.com or 415.321.5314.