Applications for more than 1,000 acres of shellfish and kelp farms were filed to state agencies by the April 30 deadline, three times more than usual. Fifteen are for new farms in regions of Southeast,
Southcentral and Westward, and seven plan to only grow kelp. Two farms at Klawok also are adding kelp to their current oyster growing operations.
It’s really exciting new young fishing industry people where seaweed might be a really good adjunct to help diversify their fishing portfolio. We hear fishermen talk about that a lot.
Julie Decker of Wrangell is co-chair of the 11 member Alaska Mariculture Task Force established by Governor Walker in 2016. She says Walker believes it is a viable, earth friendly means to diversify Alaska’s economy and provide a $1 billion industry within 30 years.
Shellfish are filter feeders and clean the waters and seaweed are a carbon sink and also produce really healthy products. I think we’re on a good path.
For shellfish farmers, kelp – which takes just three months to grow – can provide a ready cash flow while they are waiting for up to three years for their bivalves to ripen. Applicants at Ketchikan and Kodiak plan to have their kelp farms double as a sort of community garden project.
It’s a way to get the community involved and seeing, experiencing and understanding what it takes to farm, how to do it, how to plant and harvest. It’s another very cool development because these people are sharing information and they want to see something positive for the communities.
Latest state data from 2015 show that oysters averaged nearly $10 a dozen for Alaska growers. Blue mussels fetched $5.27 a pound. The very first Alaska harvest of kelp last month by Kodiak grower and fisherman Nick Mangini paid out at roughly $10,000 for 15,000 pounds.