Alaska Sea Grant Receives Grants for Shellfish Farming, Invasive Species and Marine Mammal Research

Three federal and state grants totaling over $1 million will be used by Alaska Sea Grant to establish a statewide network of citizen scientists to track the spread of marine invasive species; conduct an instruction and training program aimed at jump-starting the shellfish farming industry; and launch an effort to collect better information about marine mammals that strand on the state’s coast.

Ray RaLonde, the Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program (MAP) aquaculture specialist, received a two-year, $284,000 grant from the National Sea Grant Program and Alaska Sea Grant to reinvigorate the state’s sluggish shellfish farming industry. In 2010, some 67 shellfish farms held licenses to operate, primarily in Kachemak Bay, Prince William Sound, and Southeast Alaska. However, of these, only 25 farms regularly supply shellfish to the seafood market. Moreover, the farms produce only about 10 percent of their capacity. Total shellfish production has been level for the past five years, averaging about $500,000 total sales each year.

“Shellfish farming has great business potential for coastal Alaskans, and this grant will allow us to work with communities and individuals to open new areas to shellfish farming,” said RaLonde.

RaLonde, together with colleagues Quentin Fong, MAP marketing specialist; Gary Freitag, Ketchikan MAP agent; Glenn Haight, MAP business specialist; and Deborah Mercy, MAP instructional media specialist, will develop and conduct a shellfish farming instructional program that includes helping the Alaskan Shellfish Growers Association develop a best practices manual and assisting interested communities in developing aquaculture plans. One of the goals of the community planning effort is to identify four new aquaculture zones that could potentially accommodate 20 farm sites. The grant also includes education and training of high school students and new farmers, economics research, business support and technology transfer for existing farmers, and infrastructure assessment for communities interested in aquaculture, RaLonde said.

Gary Freitag, the Alaska Sea Grant MAP agent based in Ketchikan, received a two-year, $599,975 grant from the National Sea Grant Program, Alaska Sea Grant, the Aquatic BioInvasion and Policy Institute, and the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center. The grant will be used to train local citizen scientists in 30 coastal communities who will serve as the backbone to a new statewide marine invasive species monitoring and detection program. The citizen scientists will conduct field-based observations, using standardized and established protocols, to search for invasive marine species.

“Some non-native, or non-indigenous, marine species already have been identified in Alaska waters, and most scientists believe that as the state’s coastal waters get warmer, more non-native species likely will make their way north,” said Freitag. “Alaska needs a way to monitor, detect, and report the spread of marine invasive species, so good decisions can be made about how to deal with them.”

Across the country, non-native invasive species have caused significant destruction to coastal and freshwater ecosystems. In all, more than 500 invasive species have been found in such places as San Francisco Bay, Puget Sound, and the Great Lakes.

Already, two species of non-native tunicates—the violet tunicate Botrylloides violaceus and the golden star tunicate Botryllus schlosseri—have been found in waters near Ketchikan. The tunicates pose a threat to local marine organisms and to shellfish farms, as they tend to smother marine life, choking off oxygen and the flow of nutrients.

Kate Wynne, Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program marine mammal specialist based in Kodiak, received a two-year, $137,000 grant from the NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources and Alaska Sea Grant. Wynne will use the grant to train and equip MAP agents to respond to marine mammal strandings and to collect data and tissue samples over the next two years.

“With Marine Advisory Program agents and specialists based in eight key regions across the state, it’s important that MAP personnel have the training to respond to marine mammal strandings and to collect critical biological data for scientists,” said Wynne. “This grant allows MAP to establish a programmatic relationship with the Alaska Marine Mammal Stranding Network.”

Contact: Dr. David Christie,