In the late 1970s, Southern California Edison (SCE) began working with state regulators to lay the groundwork for a series of coastal environmental mitigation projects in San Diego County. These projects were designed to offset adverse impacts on marine life by the ocean-water cooling system at the planned San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.

Today, three major pieces of that effort have reached fruition: the San Dieguito Wetlands; the Wheeler-North Giant Kelp Reef; and the Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute’s Leon Raymond Hubbard Jr. Marine Fish Hatchery.

The San Dieguito Wetlands project revitalized 150 acres of coastal wetlands, creating a fish nursery and a refuge for migratory water fowl and endangered species. Offshore nearby, the 174.4-acre Wheeler-North Kelp Reef is thriving as the nation’s first sustainable artificial kelp forest, attracting countless species of coastal fish and invertebrates.

This year saw notable milestones for the third mitigation project: The Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute of San Diego celebrated its 50th year, and its Hubbard Marine Fish Hatchery in Carlsbad released its two millionth white seabass into the Pacific Ocean.

Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute marked its anniversary with a celebration at SeaWorld in September, an event that received a financial contribution from SCE. Edison and its partners in the San Onofre plant — San Diego Gas & Electric and the cities of Anaheim and Riverside — were major original funders of the Hubbard Fish Hatchery, contributing more than $4 million to the project’s start-up costs. Built on land donated by SDG&E on the Agua Hedionda Lagoon in Carlsbad, the 22,000-square-foot hatchery opened in 1995 and operates under contract with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“We are the only marine fin fish hatchery on the West Coast,” said Mark Drawbridge, senior research scientist at Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute. He added that the Institute hopes to also rebuild the California halibut fish population if it can secure funding and approvals for the project.

Inside the Carlsbad hatchery building, about 200 spawning adult seabass can be seen swimming around in five huge tanks. Each female can produce millions of eggs each year, and hatchery workers collect those eggs and raise a portion of them from larvae to fingerlings in a series of indoor tanks. This is followed by a four-month “grow-out” period in small coastal cages that are operated by volunteers from local fishing clubs. 

The fish are then released to the wild when they reach about eight inches in length. The fish are tagged before release to help the Institute determine how many survive to adulthood and where they migrate. For those that do survive their perilous juvenile period in the Pacific, fraught with diving sea birds and hungry seals and sea lions, they can reach five feet in length and weigh up to 90 pounds or more, Drawbridge said.

The white seabass is a popular catch for recreational fishing enthusiasts, and much of the hatchery’s operating budget is funded from a portion of state fishing license fees. The population of white seabass declined sharply in recent decades for a variety of reasons including overfishing, said Drawbridge. That’s why the hatchery’s yearly contribution of about 200,000 new fish to the population is so important.

Dawn Wilson, SCE’s director of Environmental Strategy and Corporate Responsibility, said, “The hatchery plays an important role to the overall success of SCE's marine mitigation program and offers a sustainable way to grow the population of these species in our native California waters.”