Fish Radio

Mariculture task force takes shape

April 21, 2016Seaweed off bottom

This is Fish Radio. I’m Laine Welch – Mariculture will soon help boost Alaska’s bottom line. More after this –

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Mariculture is in line to be one of Alaska’s most profitable new industries and plans call for it to get moving fast. Governor Walker created an 11 member Alaska Mariculture Task Force Mariculture by Administrative Order in February. It includes the Departments of Fish and Game and Commerce, Sea Grant and 7 public members who will hold a first meeting soon.

 It’s gratifying that the Governor and Lt. Governor  have bought into the vision of expediting the development of mar – the state has a different mindset now of diversifying its economy and looking at developing resources that weren’t as prominent in the past when we had a lot of oil money around. 

Julie Decker is director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation. AFDF believes mariculture could be a $1 billion industry in Alaska in 30 years.  There are 56 sea farms operating in the state now, with  sales topping $1 million. Oysters make up the main crop; shellfish could easily be supplemented with seaweeds.

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. 

Seaweed prices depend on what it’s being used for and where it is grown. Growers in Maine fetch 50-60 cents a pound for edible grades;  their rock weed crop brings in $20 million a year.  Chile estimates a kelp industry would bring in $540 million annually.  And Japan’s $2 billion nori industry is one of the world’s most valuable crops.

Demand for seaweeds has soared over the past 50 years, far outstripping wild supplies, says the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization.  That’s led to mariculture producing more than 90 percent of the global market.

Alaska wants in on the action.

The task force’s challenge will be to brainstorm  a statewide strategic plan, and one focus will be Western Alaska. Decker says some village groups are backing data collection on possible growing sites, processing and transportation options.

You start layering that information on top of maps and then hopefully identify hubs that make sense for developing, also have to look at community interest as well.  I, for sure, think there is a lot of potential out there that we haven’t even recognized yet.

Governor Walker wants the task force plan on Alaska mariculture opportunities on his desk by March 1, 2018. Find links at our website www.alaskafishradio.com

Fish Radio is also brought to you by Ocean Beauty Seafoods – who salutes and says thanks to the men and women fishing across Alaska for their hard work and dedication. (www.oceanbeauty.com) In Kodiak, I’m Laine Welch.

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