NOAA puts Alaskan aquaculture in the spotlight this week

NOAA Fisheries releases inaugural State of Alaska Aquaculture report, as stakeholders meet in Anchorage to discuss the Aquaculture Opportunity Area process, as well as the future of mariculture in the State.
Oyster farming at Alaska Shellfish Farms in Kachemak Bay, Alaska.

Oyster farming at Alaska Shellfish Farms in Kachemak Bay, Alaska.

Credit: NOAA Fisheries.

The future of aquaculture in Alaska is under the spotlight during February, with the release of a new NOAA Fisheries report timed to coincide with a series of industry events taking place this week in Anchorage.

NOAA Fisheries released its inaugural State of Alaska Aquaculture Report on February 23, "to document and celebrate the continued growth of the aquaculture industry", highlighting the opportunities, challenges, and the current state of marine aquaculture in Alaska.

Meanwhile, today, February 26, NOAA and Alaska's State Department are jointly hosting a workshop on the process of identifying Aquaculture Opportunity Areas (AOAs) in State waters, kicking off a series of mariculture sector events in Anchorage this week.

NOAA report highlights ambitious plans for mariculture growth in Alaska

As revealed by the report, commercial aquaculture activities in Alaska have remained relatively small-scale until now, focusing on Pacific oysters, seaweed, and blue mussels, with finfish farming prohibited in state waters.

However, the mariculture sector is growing, demonstrated by an uptick in new shellfish and seaweed farming applications in recent years. From an average of six applications per year between 2014 and 2018, the number has more than doubled to approximately 14 applications annually between 2019 and 2023.

And, if the Alaskan government's aquaculture goals are realized, the sector is set to scale significantly. Alaska's Mariculture Task Force has set an ambitious goal to expand the industry into a $100 million enterprise by 2040, while the NOAA has selected Alaska for its next Aquaculture Opportunity Area (AOA) process.

According to NOAA, AOAs are "defined geographic areas [...] determined to be environmentally, socially, and economically appropriate to support multiple commercial aquaculture operations," with their size and location determined through a combination of "spatial analysis, Indigenous Knowledge, and public engagement".

AOA stakeholder meeting takes place today

In support of the Aquaculture Opportunity Area identification process — a process which is set to take several years — NOAA and the State of Alaska are today hosting a workshop aiming to educate participants about NOAA'S planning approach and data used, as well as establishing contacts and building community engagement.

According to the NOAA, the workshop presents a chance to exchange information and shape future aquaculture planning efforts in Alaska, with the outcomes expected to aid coastal managers, communities, Tribes, the industry, and other organizations in preparing for aquaculture development in the region.

Alaska's mariculture industry meets in Anchorage, February 26-29

The NOAA stakeholder workshop kicks off a series of mariculture sector meetings and events taking place in Anchorage this week.

On February 27, members of the Alaska Mariculture Alliance (AMA) and Alaska Shellfish Growers Association (ASGA) will get together for their annual meetings, followed by the main event of the week, the Mariculture Conference of Alaska, taking place February 28-29.

The 2024 edition of the Mariculture Conference of Alaska provides an opportunity to meet with members of the mariculture industry, hear from mariculture experts, and connect with farmers, processors, researchers, community leaders and other professionals.

The goal of the conference is to support the continued development of mariculture in the state by examining accomplishments, challenges and opportunities in research, innovative practices, educational opportunities, and drivers of industry growth.

About the State of Alaska Aquaculture report

Developed in collaboration with economic and government organizations including the Alaska Mariculture Alliance, Southeast Conference, Alaska Sea Grant, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and Alaska Department of Natural Resources, the new report provides insights into the evolution of aquaculture in Alaska, regional development, and outlines opportunities for stakeholders.

It features contributions from hatchery operators, farmers, and state officials, and includes a regional breakdown of the industry, production overviews, funding resources, and NOAA’s plans for identifying Aquaculture Opportunity Areas in Alaska.

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