"It'll be difficult with the price of labor," Davis said. "We're not millionaires by any stretch. I mean, we are farmers but we make a living at it."

'Diving' Deeper

In addition to sea bass in Carlsbad, the institute's aquaculture program, which is funded by grants, has a staff of 10 that work out of the group's Mission Bay offices to identify native species appropriate for farming.

Both Davis and Kent, who started with the institute in 1977 as a graduate student, welcome industry regulation to help boost its credibility, though both say they are already monitored by the state Department of Fish and Game.

"Aquaculture is the future and should be promoted locally," Davis said. "I think all seafood that you and I will eat in the next 10 years will be aquacultured."

Ironically, regulations imposed decades ago to protect dolphins helped decimate San Diego's tuna fishing industry. Senior Research Biologist Mark Drawbridge, who heads up the institute's aquaculture program, believes that tuna fishing could be revived with farming techniques.

"There's a thriving tuna (farm) industry right across the border," Drawbridge said. "We're just looking at that thing thinking, 'jeez, there's just no reason that can't be moved up to Southern California.' "

Editor's Note: The original version of this story misstated the relationship between the Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute and SeaWorld. It has been corrected in this version.