By Yereth Rosen
Alaska Beacon 

NOAA Fisheries report points to growth in Alaska mariculture efforts


March 20, 2024

While Alaska’s mariculture industry is small by global standards, production of farmed shellfish and seaweed in the state has increased substantially in recent years, according to a new status report released Feb. 23 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Applications for Alaska mariculture permits averaged about six a year from 2014 to 2018 but increased to about 14 a year from 2019 to 2023, said the State of Alaska Aquaculture report, issued by the NOAA Fisheries.

Oysters have been a pillar of Alaska mariculture for many years, and sales of Alaska oysters grew from about 4.5 million in 2000 to about 7 million in 2022, according to the report.

The other main mariculture products in Alaska are blue mussels and sugar, ribbon and bull kelp, the report said. In all, 42 invertebrate and seaweed species have been permitted for farming in Alaska.

Finfish farming is illegal in the state.

Seaweed production has grown dramatically in Alaska. It went from almost nothing in 2017 to nearly 900,000 pounds in 2022, the report said.

The global seaweed market is worth close to $10 billion, according to a recent analysis. Production is overwhelmingly dominated by China and other Asian countries, and farmed seaweed is being used for various industrial and pharmaceutical purposes as well as for food, according to a World Bank analysis.

Within the United States, Maine is the leading producer of seaweed, with more than 1 million pounds of product in 2023 and more than 40 active seaweed farming sites in 2023, according to a recent report issued jointly by Sea Grant programs in multiple coastal states. But Alaska’s industry has grown sufficiently to bring the state to second place by 2023, with over 875,000 pounds produced from 30 active sites last year, according to the Sea Grant report.

The new NOAA Fisheries report notes that several initiatives have been launched in recent years to expand the industry in Alaska. The Alaska Mariculture Task Force, created by the governor in 2016, established a goal of developing a $100 million industry by the 2030s.

Toward that goal, Alaska mariculture programs have been granted federal and state funds to stimulate development of the industry

In 2022, the Alaska Mariculture Cluster was awarded $49 million in federal money from the infrastructure legislation pushed by the Biden administration. The cluster was formed by the Southeast Conference, a regional economic development organization, and includes nearly 20 municipal, nonprofit, university, Native and tribal corporation partners from across the state.

The program also has $15 million in cash donations and in-kind matching funds to use over the next three years to help seaweed farmers and oyster growers start or expand and improve their businesses, find markets and take on a bigger role in the state’s economy.

The money also will be used to set up a revolving loan fund for growers and farmers and pay for research and development of new products to boost sales.

In addition to the funding, NOAA and the state are in the process of identifying more areas suitable for mariculture through an Aquaculture Opportunity Areas program announced last year.

The Alaska Beacon is an independent, donor-funded news organization. The Wrangell Sentinel contributed reporting to this story.


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