A strategic research plan released by the Alaska Fisheries Science Center (AFSC) will be used to help the NOAA Fisheries agency guide research to expand shellfish and seaweed production over the next five years, in hopes of expanding the state’s blue economy.
The goal is to provide information for state and federal regulatory agencies and coastal communities in Alaska to ensure a sustainable seafood supply and economic opportunities for Americans.
This research will provide an important foundation for sustainable development, AFSC Director Bob Foy said.
“Marine aquaculture contributes to restoration efforts in Alaska and is increasing economic opportunities for coastal communities through the farming of shellfish and seaweed,” Foy explained.
The research plan notes that the industry in Alaska currently includes some 82 permitted farms, with a value of about $1.5 million, and another 24 permits are pending. The governor’s Alaska’s Mariculture Task Force set a goal of developing a $100 million per year aquaculture industry in Alaska state waters in 20 years through workforce development, investment in or adaptation of seafood processing hatchery, and harvesting infrastructure, research and development of current and new aquaculture species and products and regulatory changes.
Commercial aquaculture operations have focused mostly on Pacific oysters, kelp and blue mussel production in state waters. Finfish aquaculture is prohibited. The main regions of aquaculture development in the state are southeast and southcentral, including Prince William Sound the Kenai Peninsula and Kodiak. NOAA Fisheries is interested in increasing shellfish and seaweed production for the long-term benefit of Alaska’s economy, environment and communities.
AFSC aquaculture research lead Jordan Hollarsmith said the research can help ensure that aquaculture takes its place in the state economy in a manner that doesn’t pose a risk to essential fish habitat, wild populations, subsistence subtidal and tidal harvest, marine mammals and commercial and recreational fisheries in coastal areas.
The research plan focuses on seaweed (kelp and red algae), shellfish (Pacific oysters, pinto abalone and king crab) and other invertebrate (sea cucumber).
Research priorities include promoting economically and socially sustainable growth by increasing the portfolio of species grown in Alaska, focusing on endemic species and multitrophic aquaculture and building oyster hatchery production in the state through strategic partnerships and selective breeding of Alaska optimized strains.
The research plan also emphasizes enhancing the resiliency of Alaska aquaculture to climate change through improved understanding of the potential for macroalgae to locally mitigate ocean acidification and sequester carbon, and further modeling efforts to identify future aquaculture locations under various climate change scenarios.