Kelp farming in Alaska                    Credit: Anchorage Daily News

 

More Alaskans are getting into or expanding seaweed and shellfish farms as the state’s mariculture industry continues to grow. Sixteen new applications were submitted during the January through April annual time frame.

“About 56% of those, nine of them, want to culture kelp species – 31% want to do a combination of Pacific oysters and kelp, and the remaining 13% were culturing Pacific oysters only.”  

Cynthia Pring-Ham is the aquatic farming coordinator at the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game which issues the permits. They partner with the Dept. of Natural Resources which leases the lands where aquatic farming takes place.

“There were about 616 acres that were applied for in 2019 compared to 462 acres in 2018. That’s about a 33 percent increase from one year to the other.”  

The same number of growers applied as last year; 12 for new farms and the others to expand or modify their operations. And for the first time, there is interest from growers further west.

 

“In 2019 we had our first applications from the Alaska Peninsula. We’ve talked about shellfish and how it’s difficult for bivalves in that area to grow successfully, and those two applicants were in Sand and for kelp species. So maybe that will be a new avenue for people. We are very excited.”

Currently in Alaska 58 aquatic farms, 5 hatcheries and 7 nurseries are operating, mostly in Kachemak Bay, Southeast and Prince William Sound. Pacific oysters are the biggest crop, valued at more than $1.53 million and growing each year.

Pring-Ham says fast growing kelp crops will help the shellfish growers bottom line –

“The major species people are growing, sugar and ribbon, they can be grown in a very short amount of time. They put them out in the fall and can harvest in the spring. So in four to six months they can have a product ready for market, which is a lot shorter than for shellfish like our Pacific oysters which can take two to four years.”

Alaska’s kelp harvest has gone from 16,000 pounds in 2017 to nearly 90,000 pounds last year, nearly all from Kodiak. Growers were paid 45 cents a pound for sugar kelp and 90 cents for ribbon kelp.

 

Dulce, nori and sea lettuce are now included in the undersea farm menu, along with sea urchins, mussels and giant geoduck clams.

Alaska’s mariculture has state backing and a task force continues to work its plan to develop a $1 billion industry in less than 30 years.

Alaska Sea Grant is involved with several programs and federal grants are available to expand US growing operations.

 

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