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Can Shellfish & Kelp Aquaculture Take Advantage of Water Quality and Carbon Trading to Reduce Coastal Pollution? A Case Study from California

IWRA 2021 Online Conference One Water, One Health
Theme 4: What are the synergies or trade-offs between ecosystem health and human health?
Author(s): Robin Kundis Craig

Robin Kundis Craig
Robert C. Packard Trustee Chair in Law
University of Southern California Gould School of Law
Los Angeles, CA USA



(a) Purpose or objectives and status of study or research hypothesis

This study explores whether current legal frameworks in California allow coastal shellfish and kelp aquaculture facilities to participate in market-based trading programs for nutrients and carbon to reduce nearshore coastal pollution, improve food supply, and improve coastal ecosystems. It hypothesizes that the law allows for such trading but that special programs will need to be authorized in specific watersheds.

(b) Key issue(s) or problem(s) addressed

Land-based coastal pollution is a significant problems in many coastal watersheds, particularly with respect to sewage discharges and land-based runoff. In the United States, while legal permitting of concentrated animal feeding operations and sewage treatment plants and prescribed or recommended best management practices for agriculture have addressed some of the problem, coastal hypoxic zones and harmful algal blooms continue to appear. Some problems have become so bad that they have inspired extraordinary legal approaches, such as the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load.

More recently, however, some coastal states have turned to shellfish and kelp aquaculture as potential mechanisms for redressing land-based water pollution. In California, moreover, kelp and shellfish aquaculture also has the potential to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. The ability to participate in water quality and carbon trading programs would provide additional financial incentives to kelp and shellfish aquaculture in California while simultaneously helping to improve coastal ecosystems, increasing food security, and growing biofuels. It is unclear, however, whether California law fully embraces the inclusion of coastal aquaculture in these trading programs.

(c) Methodology or approach used
This is a standard legal research analysis that examines statutes, regulations, and case law in California.

(d) Results and conclusions derived from the project
California law allows water quality and carbon trading that involves coastal aquaculture, but programs must be designed individually for each watershed.


(e) Implications of the project relevant to selected conference theme, theory and/or practice

The incorporation of coastal kelp and shellfish aquaculture into water quality and carbon trading programs provides one means of mitigating land-based coastal water pollution, allowing land-based facilities both to comply with state and federal water quality law while simultaneously helping to finance new forms of coastal food security and biofuels. At the same time, by improving coastal water quality and possibly easing fishing pressure on wild fisheries, this coastal aquaculture can potentially help to restore coastal ecosystems to health.

While much scientific research remains to be done, one of the first steps is to find the legal pathways to allow such in situ experimentation to begin. California’s governance of its coastal environment is one of the most complex legal systems in the world, and so a successful navigation of those laws and regulations is likely to result in planning and permitting procedures that can serve as models for other jurisdictions.

IWRA Proceedings - - Admin