Interest continues to grow for startups of shellfish and seaweed farms – and in more remote regions of Alaska.
Eighteen growers put in applications for new or modified farms in the 2020 time slot that runs from January through April. That’s an increase of three from last year.
Fifteen plan to grow kelp only, 2 aim to grow oysters, and one will farm kelp and geoduck clams.
Most of Alaska’s growing operations occur in Southeast, near Homer and at Prince William Sound, but the trend is heading west, said Karen Cougan, Aquatic Farming Program Coordinator for the state Dept. of Natural Resources, which leases the farm tidelands.
Kodiak pioneered the first kelp harvests in 2017 and could soon have about 8 farms operating around the island, including one by the Afognak Native Corporation.
Sand Point is the first to grow kelp on the Alaska Peninsula, and this year an application came in from Adak.
In all, Alaska has 70 open farm permits, which include 8 with nurseries. There also are 5 hatcheries to provide seed stock to the aquatic farmers.
In 2019, Pacific oysters were the biggest crop, making up 95% of sales of $1.5 million, up slightly from the 10 year average.
For sugar and ribbon kelp, a crop of 112,000 pounds – up from about 17,000 pounds two years ago – was valued at $60,000.
The advantage of kelp is the short grow-out time, said Flip Pryor, Aquaculture Section Chief for the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game, which issues the permits.
Seeded lines are placed in the ocean in the fall and harvested in the spring. That four to six-month window compares to up to four years before Alaska oysters reach market size.
Alaska’s mariculture task force predicts a $100 million industry by the year 2040.