Photo credit:  Anchorage Daily News


Governor Walker plans to sign the Alaska Mariculture Development Plan this week in Ketchikan, boosting a new industry that could yield $1 billion within 30 years.

Meanwhile, 16 new applicants applied this year to grow shellfish and seaweed businesses in just over 417 acres of Alaska tideland areas.

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Most are located in Southeast and Southcentral regions and range in size from .02 acres at Halibut Cove to nearly 300 acres for two sites at Craig.

Two farms totaling 37 acres have applied at Kodiak, and one Sitka applicant has plans for a 15 acre plot. Others include Seldovia, Port Chatham, Juneau, Naukati, Cordova, Ketchikan and Gustavus.

The new growers will add to the 35 farms and 6 hatchery/nurseries that already are producing and selling a mix of oysters, clams, mussels and various seaweeds. Soon, sea cucumbers, scallops, giant geoduck clams and algae for biofuels will be added to the mix.

Oysters have been the dominate mariculture crop, and several farmers have added kelp to their acreage.

Kelp takes just three months to grow to harvest size and can provide a ready cash flow to farmers while they wait for their bivalves to ripen.

“It’s an excellent cash crop for aquatic farmers because there’s an annual return. You grow it, you harvest it you sell. Every year you’ve got some cash flow going, which is really difficult for shellfish farmers because you have to wait three, four or 5 years, or with geoducks up to 10 years to start seeing a return on your investment. So seaweed can play a really good role.”

Julie Decker is director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation and head of an 11-member mariculture task force established in 2016 by Governor Walker through administrative order.

The first Alaska kelp crop of 15,000 pounds was harvested last year at Kodiak, which yielded a payday of about $10,000 for grower Nick Mangini. This year he tripled his take with 42,000 pounds of  brown kelp (alaria) and sugar kelp.

Mangini said 75 percent of the crop was alaria, for which he received 90 cents a pound and 45 cents a pound for the sugar kelp, adding up to more than $33,000.

It’s all a drop in the bucket compared to the real potential for the new industry in Alaska.

Decker said that if only 3 tenths of a percent of Alaska’s 35,000 miles of coastline was developed for oysters, for example, it could produce 1.3 billion oysters at 50 cents adding up to $650 million a year.

Governor Walker plans to sign the Alaska mariculture bill at grower Trevor Sande’s farm near Ketchikan.