USDA Invests $500,000 to Help Increase Mariculture Processing Capacity in Southeast Alaska

longline outplanting of sugar kelp
Scientists check a longline outplanting of sugar kelp at an experimental site near Coghlan Island, Alaska. Photo: University of Alaska/Mike Stekoll.

The United States Department of Agriculture in mid-January announced a $500,000 investment to help a regional economic development organization, the Southeast Conference, create a blueprint for a mariculture (seaweed and other sea products) processing facility on Prince of Wales Island, Alaska.

The investment, according to the Agriculture Department, is an effort to support a federal government commitment to support economic, cultural and natural resources sustainability in Southeast Alaska.

“USDA is investing in this effort by engaging with local tribes, governments and community leaders to encourage economic growth that reflects the region’s rich diversity, cultural heritage and natural resources,” Department of Agriculture Under Secretary for Rural Development Xochitl Torres Small said.

“Mariculture is a critical and growing income and job creator in Southeast Alaska,” she continued.” Farmers in the region have requested dedicated infrastructure to scale up their operations to meet market demands. This investment is the first step in standing up a shared processing space that will save on costs and create new market opportunities.”

USDA’s investment is part of an ongoing effort to help create jobs and diversify the economy in Southeast Alaska. The proposed maritime processing center would support aquatic farming of kelp, seaweed and shellfish, and co-op members would be able to handle, store, freeze, pack, process, label and load their harvest safely and cost-effectively, according to the Agriculture Department.

The project is the result of USDA’s engagement with people and organizations in the region, represented by the Southeast Alaska Sustainability Strategy, under which USDA collaborates with tribes, Alaska Native corporations, partners and communities to identify additional investments that would support regional economic growth, natural resources and community well-being.

“The (Agriculture) Department is committed to strengthening small businesses, expanding broadband reliability, increasing renewable energy production, and supporting local foods and agriculture production, water and sewer infrastructure, health care, housing and outdoor tourism in southeast Alaska,” the USDA said in a statement.

USDA Rural Development provides loans and grants to help expand economic opportunities, create jobs and improve the quality of life for Americans in rural areas. The assistance supports infrastructure improvements; business development; housing; community facilities such as schools, public safety and health care; and high-speed internet access in rural, tribal and high-poverty areas.