How this Southern California shellfish farm is saving the environment


View of the lagoon from Carlsbad Aquafarm — Photo courtesy of Marla Cimini

Seafood lovers and conservation enthusiasts visiting North County San Diego can now join a unique guided tour of a state-of-the-art aquaculture farm, where you can learn about coastal sustainability — and then, get a lesson. shucking and tasting while overlooking a tranquil lagoon.

The Carlsbad Aquafarm is an innovative facility located on the scenic Agua Hedionda Lagoon in the coastal town of Carlsbad. Helping to preserve Southern California’s wetlands and clean up the ocean, this aquaculture farm harvests more than two million pounds of shellfish each year and is dedicated to sharing its message of sustainability with visitors who visit this eco-friendly operation and fascinating.

As the only aquaculture farm in Southern California, this facility was established over 30 years ago, but it wasn’t until 2021 that the farm opened for small group tours. Customers (with ticket reservations) can now get a rare, first-hand look at this intriguing destination. While there, visitors learn about how this shellfish farm increases the area’s biodiversity by cleaning up the water and protecting the coast from the negative impact of rising ocean levels.

Oysters and mussels at AquafarmOysters and mussels at Aquafarm — Photo courtesy of Marla Cimini

This farm cultivates and harvests shellfish from the lagoon, which are sold directly to consumers and local businesses through a distributor. Species farmed here are Pacific oysters (called Carlsbad blondes) and Mediterranean mussels (called Carlsbad mussels). About 750 million gallons of seawater pass through the lagoon daily from the Pacific Ocean, bringing nutrients to feed the shellfish and keep the lagoons clean.

Considered as “filter feeders”, the shells subsist by eating algae and other small organic particles from the lagoon. The Carlsbad Aquafarm process results in fresh oysters and mussels for consumers, as well as an additional positive impact: healthy, clear water, allowing seagrass beds in the lagoon to thrive and ensuring abundant wildlife thrive. wetlands.

It was the first oyster farm to offer an inventive “depuration and purification” process, which involves immersing oysters in triple-filtered seawater once they have reached full size. This ensures that oysters are a safe, delicious, premium shellfish product.

Tour guide Sophia Martinez at the Aquatic FarmTour guide Sophia Martinez at the Aquatic Farm — Photo courtesy of Marla Cimini

The tour informs visitors of the farm’s processes at every stage of the process and shows how one-inch oysters are placed in multiple trays (each containing approximately 60 oysters) and stacked underwater for approximately six months as they mature. they grow. Suspended above the seabed in anchored buoys, the shells are protected from predators and finally harvested after reaching “marketable size,” between two and five inches.

At this point, the bivalves are transferred to tanks for a triple filtration process which ensures thorough cleaning. Conversely, mussels are reared slightly differently and instead cling to fibrous “ropes” that are suspended underwater until harvest.

Most importantly, the Aquatic Farm also supports the biodiversity-rich local waterfront by working with the City of Carlsbad and partnering with research universities, including the University of Southern California’s Wrigley Marine Lab. They also conduct aquaponic vegetable gardening experiments on site throughout the year.

Carlsbad Aquafarm Tour Manager Rachael Taylor says Carlsbad Aquafarm is committed to producing high-quality seafood and sells around 11,000 pounds a week through individual farm pick-ups, as well as through the local distribution. She pointed out that the aquaculture farm is not considered a big operation and is dedicated to conserving ocean resources through its sustainable farming practices.

She says, “We are a very small company, and we choose to stay that way because it also allows us to stay sustainable. Simply put, oyster and mussel farming truly improves the environment and dramatically improves the health of our coastal waters.

Seashell tank at the water farmSeashell tank at aqua farm — Photo courtesy of Marla Cimini

Tayor hopes a visit to the aquaculture farm will inspire area travelers to learn more about ocean conservation and sustainability in SoCal. “I love telling the story of Carlsbad Aquafarm to my guests – locals or tourists. You can see how their understanding of the growing process changes their view of oysters and mussels. We hope they take this understanding with them into all their consumption choices, to choose sustainably grown foods that support the local ecosystem and local economy.

Oysters and mussels in touch tankOysters and mussels in touch tank — Photo courtesy of Marla Cimini

Additionally, the Carlsbad Aquafarm also donates used oyster shells to local charities, artists and sustainable businesses throughout the year. So far in 2022, they’ve donated over 300 cubic yards of seashells, including some for a project with the San Diego Zoo in conjunction with the Navy Seals. It is designed to increase the population of two endangered shorebird species: the California pygmy tern and the western snowy plover.

She mentioned that a few years ago the farm made a donation to San Diego Bay for conservation efforts; and in early June 2022 they donated shells to a local farm for calcium supplements for chicken feed.

According to Taylor, future plans are in the works in the next few years for future expansion of the aquaculture farm, including a possible market, gift shop and oyster tastings without requiring a tour ticket.

Visit the farm and learn how to shell oysters

Tour guide Sophia Martinez demonstrates oyster shucking to guest Andrea CiminiTour guide Sophia Martinez demonstrates oyster shucking to guest Andrea Cimini — Photo courtesy of Marla Cimini

Carlsbad Aquatic Farm runs daily tours in small groups (approximately 12 people), with a knowledgeable guide who provides insight into the whole farm operation and explains why it’s an operation so unique and eco-friendly.

This one-hour outdoor guided tour is an easy walk through the property, with a detailed description of the facilities; an opportunity to keep oysters and mussels in the touch tank, which ranges in size from tiny to jumbo; glimpses of purification systems technology and an added bonus of being surrounded by nature and waterfront views.

Author Marla Cimini and her sister Andrea Cimini enjoy oystersAuthor Marla Cimini and her sister Andrea Cimini enjoy oysters — Photo courtesy of Marla Cimini

Our tour guide, Sophia Martinez, was extremely knowledgeable and provided an abundance of information on the local ecosystems. She showed us the inner workings of the farm and answered all of our questions. At the end of the tour she led our small group to a shaded outdoor patio and gave us a very detailed live tutorial on shucking oysters and eagerly helped some of us try to carefully open the shells ourselves.

Gloves and knives are provided, and supplies are placed on barrel-style tables, so tour participants have their own space. Our group particularly enjoyed tasting six fresh and delicious oysters each, while overlooking the lagoon.

Carlsbad Water Farm Ticket Information

The Carlsbad Aquafarm tour is very popular, so reservations online are required for the one-hour guided tour ($35 per person). Wear a hat, bring sunscreen and a bottle of water, as you are (mostly) out in the sun for this experience.

If you want to taste the mussels and oysters without the visit, no problem! You can still enjoy the shells through online pre-orders. Freshness is guaranteed, because once the order is confirmed, the oysters will be ready to be picked up within two hours, and they will be out of the water for about ten minutes. Visit website for pricing and details.

Where to Stay in Carlsbad, CA

Cape Rey Carlsbad Beach, a Hilton Resort and Spa

This stunning beachfront resort boasts a prime location in Carlsbad and boasts a large pool and a casual restaurant with waterfront views and an extensive specialty menu. Some rooms have a balcony and face the ocean.

The Cassara Carlsbad, Tapestry Collection by Hilton

Overlooking Carlsbad’s famous flower fields, this hotel is located a short drive from downtown (also known as “The Village”). It has a nice pool and is very close to Legoland, a variety of restaurants and shops.


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