By Yereth Rosen
Alaska Beacon 

NOAA office releases strategic science plan to support Alaska mariculture ambitions


September 1, 2022

Alaska has special opportunities for developing a thriving aquaculture industry, but also special challenges that stand in the way of such ambitions, according to a new strategic science plan issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The plan is intended to guide aquaculture-related research conducted over the next five years by NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center.

It considers ways that science can help achieve the ambitions championed by a state panel seeking to expand the industry. The Governor’s Mariculture Task Force, established in 2016, set a goal of developing a $100 million-per-year Alaska aquaculture industry within 20 years.

Doing so will require some boosted research, public education and support for partnerships among government agencies, Indigenous communities, academia, industry and others, said the strategic plan. It identifies specific goals to accomplish those objectives.

For now, the Alaska aquaculture industry is small – just 82 permitted farms, with 24 additional permits pending as of January 2022, the report said. The value of the industry at the start of 2022 was $1.5 million, it said.

There is potential for rapid growth, even though finfish farming is illegal and even though Alaska is the only coastal state where aquaculture is unlikely to expand into federal waters in the near future, it said.

“The cold and nutrient rich waterways of Alaska are ideally suited for the development of shellfish and algae aquaculture,” it said.

But special challenges include Alaska’s accelerated climate change and ocean acidification, the plan said.

Climate-change problems include marine heat waves, more harmful algal blooms and extreme rainfall events, it said. Acidification, which lowers available calcium, poses known threats to shellfish populations and shellfish farms, it said.

At the same time, climate change and acidification have created incentives for expanded aquaculture in Alaska, the strategic plan said. There is “strong interest” from local communities and industry to use kelp farming to create local areas that are more protected against acidification, for example. And aquaculture is also seen by the U.S. Department of Energy as a possible tool for carbon capture, a strategy that would mitigate climate change, the plan said. An idea being considered is use of cultivated microalgae to absorb carbon dioxide, the plan said.

The is a donor-funded independent news organization in Alaska.


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