An Ocean of Opportunity in Alaska

Authors: Patrick McHugh

The Alaska Mariculture Cluster (AMC) wants the world to know there is an ocean of opportunity to grow mariculture in the state’s fertile seas. Leveraging the state’s extensive coastline and favorable water conditions, AMC is working to secure more of the growing global market for kelp-based products and expand shellfish farming in the region.

Shirley Kelly, Alaska EDA Representative, Kodiak, Alaska

Alaska EDA Representative

The AMC is investing BBBRC and matching funds in resources like nursery and hatching equipment, processing facilities, workforce development, research and development, market research, and standing up a revolving loan fund to provide startup capital for farmers looking to break into the market. These efforts build on other ongoing investments including regional aquiculture, processing capacity, and shellfish farming and salmon ranching.

AMC is serious about Indigenous communities being in the driver’s seat. The seaweed mariculture industry may be somewhat nascent, but Indigenous communities in Alaska have been harvesting and using kelp for generations. To make good on the commitment to Indigenous communities, a quarter of AMC’s BBBRC funds are planned to be distributed to native communities, representatives from tribal governments sit on AMC’s governing body, and native-led organizations are part of AMC’s core coalition. The Washington Post recently published an in-depth article on kelp farming and AMC’s efforts, including discussion of how growing this industry could provide a sustainable source of income for Native communities.

AMC recently announced its first set of joint innovation project awards. The 15 projects aim to solve practical challenges facing the growth of the mariculture industry in the region and foster partnerships that can remove roadblocks to market growth. Funded projects address a range of topics including mariculture farming practices, small-scale and distributed mariculture systems, kelp and shellfish processing, and transporting products to market.

Salty Lady Seafood Co. Oyster Farm, Juneau, Alaska

Salty-Lady-Seafood-Co

The next round of work is gearing up with two Request for Proposals currently open to secure capacity to drive key elements of the coalition’s strategy (another RFP on the feasibility of expanding regional processing capacity just closed). AMC is soliciting proposals for applied R&D on methods of cultivating new mariculture species and purchasing a range of other vital equipment to support processing, nursery, and hatchery development.

Plans are also in the works for the 3rd Annual Mariculture Conference to be held in late February 2024. Following on this year’s gathering in Juneau, the gathering will bring together people working in the mariculture industry, researchers, and economic development practitioners.

With partnerships maturing, practical research getting done, and capacity being built, AMC is looking to haul in sustainable prosperity for communities across thousands of miles of Alaskan coastline.

The work isn’t done, so stay tuned for more updates as BBBRC coalitions build the foundations for equitable opportunity in their regions.

This blog was prepared by RTI using Federal funds under award ED22HDQ3070079 from the Economic Development Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce. The statements, findings, conclusions, and recommendations are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Development Administration or the U.S. Department of Commerce.