NOAA to identify new Aquaculture Opportunity Areas in Alaska

Science, indigenous knowledge, and collaboration with local communities are key to identifying these Aquaculture Opportunity Areas.
Alaska aquaculture in practice — seaweed farming in Doyle Bay, Alaska, with Seagrove Kelp Company. Photo: NOAA
Alaska aquaculture in practice — seaweed farming in Doyle Bay, Alaska, with Seagrove Kelp Company. Photo: NOAA

After California and the Gulf of Mexico, Alaska will be the third area in the United States in which the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will work to identify new Aquaculture Opportunity Areas (AOAs). The process, which will take several years, will be conducted in Alaska state waters and will not include federal waters. In addition, NOAA will only consider marine invertebrates and seaweed farming for the project, as finfish farming is prohibited by law in Alaska state waters.

An Aquaculture Opportunity Area is a defined geographic area that has been evaluated from an environmental, social, and economic standpoint to determine its potential suitability for commercial aquaculture. To determine it, NOAA uses a combination of scientific analysis and public engagement, which in the case of Alaska also includes tribes.

Alaska uniquely positioned to benefit from aquaculture

"With more coastline than all of the Lower 48 states combined, Alaska is uniquely positioned to benefit from a growing marine aquaculture industry," said NOAA Fisheries Assistant Administrator Janet Coit. "Aquaculture Opportunity Area identification efforts use the best available science, Indigenous Knowledge and collaboration with local communities to foster shellfish and seaweed aquaculture — benefiting Alaska's Blue Economy."

The announcement made this week comes after a comment period during which NOAA received public support for aquaculture from Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy, members of the Alaska Legislature, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Alaska Native organizations, as well as industry and research institutions.

"I appreciate NOAA's decision to begin working with the State to identify Aquaculture Opportunity Areas in Alaska," said Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy now. "My Administration continues to work closely to promote the responsible development of aquaculture in our pristine coastal waters. This sector has huge growth potential and will provide yet another example of Alaskan leadership in the seafood industry. Our state was predicated on resource development and state management of our fisheries."

Recently, Dunleavy has shown his commitment to Alaska's shellfish industry on several occasions, such as the petition for a fishery catastrophe declaration for some of the state's salmon and crab fisheries late last year that was ultimately granted.

Environmental, economic, and social sustainability

NOAA claims the State of Alaska is a "crucial" partner in designing and identifying appropriate locations for AOA and commercial aquaculture. There will also be an open process for the public to share their tribal, community, and stewardship goals. In addition, NOAA's National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science will assist in planning through ecosystem modeling to help determine the best size and location for AOAs.

"Marine aquaculture is part of the NOAA Fisheries' strategy for economic and environmental resilience in coastal communities and supports healthy oceans," said Danielle Blacklock, director of NOAA's Office of Aquaculture. "In a changing climate, aquaculture is a critical component of sustainable food systems, marine habitats and coastal economies," she added.

In 2022, aquaculture production sales in Alaska totaled USD 1.9 million (EUR 1.76 million), and the state is experiencing an increase in aquaculture permit applications. While it does not serve as a pre-approval, and prospective aquaculturists will still have to go through extensive state and federal permitting processes, identifying AOAs is helpful for them to consider for site selection and environmental analysis.

Aquaculture in the AOA will support environmental, economic, and social sustainability in Alaska, a territory in whose state waters finfish farming is prohibited by law. Therefore, in this identification process, NOAA will only consider marine invertebrates – such as shellfish and sea cucumbers – and seaweed farming. In early March, Alaska's only representative in the U.S. House, Mary Peltola, along with U.S. Representative Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), introduced the Coastal Seaweed Farm Act in the U.S. Congress. "I believe that this bill can make a positive impact on issues of food security, sustainability, and ocean health," she said then.

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