Alaska mariculture push gaining traction in effort to reach USD 100 million in value

Alaska's Sea Grove Kelp
A harvesting vessel operated by Alaska's Sea Grove Kelp | Photo courtesy of Sea Grove Kelp
4 Min

A push to grow Alaska’s mariculture sector is rapidly gaining traction but faces new challenges, according to a February 2024 NOAA report.

In 2014, the Alaska Mariculture Initiative was founded to grow mariculture in Alaska from a USD 1 million (EUR 893,000) industry to a USD 100 million (EUR 89 million) sector in value by 2040.

Its success can best be seen in a significant uptick in mariculture production, with nearly 2 million oysters and 900,000 pounds of seaweed sold to the public in 2021, based on Alaska Department of Fish and Game records. This surge is mirrored by a notable increase in permit applications, with an average of approximately 14 applications per year between 2019 and 2023, compared to just six annually from 2014 to 2018.

James Currie is an Alaska Sea Grant fellow who authored the February report. He said it’s meant to provide an approachable overview for curious non-experts.

“There have been steady increases over preceding years in our production of oysters and seaweed,” Currie told KTOO. “It’s a really exciting time for the aquaculture industry overall, just in terms of [the fact] we’re receiving more applications on average year by year.”

Alaska's aquaculture primarily focuses on oysters, blue mussels, and various types of kelp, with 42 seaweed and invertebrate species permitted for commercial aquaculture development. Finfish farming remains prohibited in Alaska state waters.

Currie said there a few “fundamental bottlenecks” are holding back the industry from faster growth, with logistics primary among them. Currie said oysters can be challenging to keep alive and ship long distances, and seaweed is primarily made up of water, making it extremely heavy and difficult to transport.

“One of the needs for the aquaculture industry is more industry to actually process that seaweed immediately as it comes out of the water and dry it down and refine it in some way so that it is stabilized and easier to ship in large quantities,” Currie said.

Markos Scheer, the founder and CEO of Craig, Alaska-based Sea Grove Kelp, said at the 2023 Seagriculture conference in Portland, Maine, U.S.A. that he believes there is a “unique opportunity in Alaska to develop a transformational change in the economic model.”

“We have this opportunity to positively affect communities across coastal Alaska and create these economic opportunities,” Scheer said.

To accelerate development, the Alaska Mariculture Task Force has become a membership-based nonprofit called the Alaska Mariculture Alliance. The group’s mission is to “develop and support a robust and sustainable mariculture industry, producing shellfish and aquatic plants for the long-term benefit of Alaska’s economy, environment, and communities.”

That effort was given a boost in 2022, when the Alaska Mariculture Cluster secured a USD 49 million (EUR 45.4 million) grant from the Economic Development Administration’s Build Back Better Regional Challenge. The Alaska Mariculture Cluster plans to use the grant to create a sustainable mariculture industry by reducing costs, enhancing workforce development, attracting private-sector investments, and increasing demand through product development and marketing.

In June 2023, NOAA Fisheries, in collaboration with the state of Alaska, initiated a multi-year process to identify Aquaculture Opportunity Areas (AOAs) in Alaska state waters. These AOAs are evaluated by NOAA to ensure they are environmentally, socially, and economically suitable for commercial aquaculture operations. Stakeholder workshops scheduled for 2024 will further refine the AOA identification process, aiding new farmers and managers in making informed decisions about project locations, according to NOAA.

SeafoodSource Premium

Become a Premium member to unlock the rest of this article.

Continue reading ›

Already a member? Log in ›


Want seafood news sent to your inbox?

You may unsubscribe from our mailing list at any time. Diversified Communications | 121 Free Street, Portland, ME 04101 | +1 207-842-5500