Alaska Fish & Wildlife News
February 2009

Mariculture in Alaska
A Young Industry

By Maxwell Severance
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Eric Wyatt, an aquatic farmer near Tokeen Bay, SE Alaska, with stacked culture trays on his dock talking with John Thiede from DNR during inspections.

In Alaska there is big talk of mariculture farming. The state is basically making tidelands available for a ten-year lease for people to apply for and raise shellfish. The Department of Fish and Game is hoping that the industry continues to expand to help increase revenue in depressed coastal communities.

To apply for this program the applicant goes through a multi-agency application and review process that can take between four months and one year to complete, depending on the proposed area. Typically, one can apply for a site to do suspended culture or on-bottom culture methods. If one is applying for a proposed on-bottom aquatic farm site, the applicant must pay a fee for a biological survey. The survey is done to see what and how many creatures live on the site. After this review process is done, and all the approvals and required land lease and aquatic farm operation permits are issued, the applicant can start to develop his farm.

Mariculture is usually a part-time job for many shellfish farmers. Due to the distances from communities, site development is required for most places to provide small living facilities where they have a small kitchen and enough beds for the staff. Along with facilities the start-up farmer needs gear. The gear is often bought or built with available materials. The cost of development for the facilities and gear can be pretty expensive up front and requires a serious, long-term investment in the farm.

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Sandra Marker, an aquatic farmer in Jinhi Bay, holding a lantern net, a type of suspended culture gear used to grow oysters.

The Department of Fish and Game is hoping mariculture farms will grow and become a major industry in Alaska. With production value at approximately $493,458 in 2007, the mariculture farming industry is still relatively small. To deal with increasing expenses, small farms are forming a sort of alliance to try and increase their income by making co-ops with other farms in the area and working together to create facilities to help process the shellfish or ship out their combined market-ready harvest.

Aquatic farming has grown in Southeast Alaska and along the coastal region of South Central Alaska. The natural environment of these regions is perfect for shellfish farming since they have waters protected by small inlets, and the water is almost the perfect temperature for growing shellfish. But along with the advantages of these coastal regions there are disadvantages like starfish, PSP, and other shellfish taking over the applicant’s crop.

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Jim Aguiar farm site facilities and long line gear used for suspended culture of oysters located in Simpson Bay, Prince William Sound.

With the investment in gear and facilities by individuals or groups of individuals and the time put into the application and review process, it is the hopeful that the mariculturist continues with their farm operations until his/her 10 year lease and permit is up. The Department of Fish and Game hopes that mariculture farming will continue to grow and help keep people working and bringing income into the rural coastal areas.

Maxwell Severance is a high-school age student from Anchorage. He wrote this article while at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Juneau participating in the Alaska Close-up program.

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