From Laine Welch in Kodiak --
Aquatic farming could give a boost to Western Alaska economies, but no one has ever applied. Every two years the state accepts applications for aquatic farm sites from January through April. Sixty-six farms have permits (not all are active), dotting Southeast and Southcentral waters. Oysters are the main crop, valued at about a half million dollars each year.
“Alaska doesn’t come close to meeting the demand for oysters, both in state and Outside,” said Cynthia Pring-Ham, mariculture coordinator for the Alaska Department of Fish & Game.
The economic downturn has increased interest in mariculture, and several training programs are helping people get started. The state offers more than 20 pre-approved sites for farmers, or they can opt for their own underwater acreage.
Alaska has been very supportive of the fledgling mariculture industry. There are now shellfish hatcheries at Seward and Prince of Wales Island, the Kachemak Shellfish Growers Cooperative in Homer has a big new facility and the Oceans Alaska center in Ketchikan aims to be a global leader in aquatic farming. Project director John Sund says it’s all about jobs.
“Economic development is the primary thing,” Sund said. “If we look at what the opportunities are for year round, sustainable jobs in remote coastal communities, the shellfish industry is one of the best options we have.”
Economists have estimated that farming geoduck clams, sea cucumber, scallops and seaweeds could return up to $100 million to Southeast, compared to $7 million today.
Pring-Ham said she doesn’t know why there is no interest in mariculture from Western Alaskans.
“It might be due to a lack of awareness about the opportunity. A lack of funds has cut into our ability to create awareness and do more training,” she said. Pring-Ham agreed that local Community Development Quota groups might fund the launch of a lucrative aquatic farm industry in their regions.
Deadline to apply for aquatic farm sites is April 30. Get more information here or contact email@example.com.
-- Contact Laine Welch at firstname.lastname@example.org.