Fish Radio by Laine Welch
|December 6, 2019|
The interest in growing seaweeds in Alaska is gaining momentum and training more farmers is the goal of a program starting next February in Kodiak, Sitka and Ketchikan.
The training is phase two of the 2014 Alaska Mariculture Initiative that aims to grow a $100 million industry in 20 years.
“We’re doing this training because there is immense interest from coastal communities and commercial fishermen,” said Riley Smith, development director with the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation which helped spearhead the mariculture push.
The training program is funded by a $287,646 grant by the federal Saltonstall-Kennedy program for two years.
Through 2019, Alaskans have applied for over 2,000 acres of new or expanding undersea farms, double the footprint from two years ago, according to Cynthia-Pring Ham, aquatic farming coordinator at the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game which issues the permits. ADF&G partners with the Dept. of Natural Resources, which leases the lands where aquatic farming takes place.
“In 2016 the state only received four applications for aquatic farms, and in 2017, 2018 and 2019, they received 16, 17 and 14 applications for a total of 47 in three years,” Smith said. “And it’s important to note that all of these applications were for oysters, seaweed or both.”
“It’s a really good fit with our existing fishery infrastructure,” said Sam Rabung, director of the ADF&G commercial fisheries division said in a previous conversation. “We have an ocean workforce of fishing communities, vessels, fishermen, processors that in many cases get used in a kind of boom and bust manner. This gives an additional shoulder to a season.”
Rabung, who began researching kelp in Japan in the 1980s and has worked in salmon enhancement and mariculture in Alaska for over 35 years, called diversification into seaweed farming “the biggest change to the industry I’ve seen in the last five years.”
“I can’t see a single downside to it,” he said. “The giant kelp that we’re focusing on in Alaska right now, the brown algae, provides everything from food to nutritional supplements to feed supplements for animals, to biofuels, soil amendments and everything in between.”
Now it’s time to prime more Alaskans to accelerate seaweed farming around the state.
“The purpose of the training is to provide the tools to Alaskans to start their own farms,” Smith said.
Ten applicants will be accepted for each training region and combined with online webinars and two-day onsite visits, they will cover a lot of ground - from identifying seaweed species to navigating the permit process to business plans and harvesting techniques.
Information and instruction will be provided by GreenWave, Alaska Sea Grant, DNR, ADF&G, Blue Evolution, OceansAlaska, AFDF and others.
So far two Alaska processors, Ocean Beauty and Silver Bay Seafoods, are involved in the new industry.
“They need to know there is enough steady volume to make sure it’s worthwhile,” Rabung added.
Smith said the emerging mariculture industry has strong interest and support from Governor Dunleavy.
“I think that the administration sees the potential for providing jobs to Alaska and diversifying economies in coastal communities,” he said.
Seaweed at Sand Point and beyond– Sand Point will be home to Alaska’s farthest west seaweed startup beginning next year. With an assist by Alaska Sea Grant and the Aleutians East Borough, growers plan to test run two different kelp species and harvest them in the spring of 2021.
“Our hope is that we can develop an innovative type of farm that can withstand our weather conditions,” said Melissa Good, a Sea Grant agent in Unalaska, speaking to KFSK in Petersburg. “We are living within an extreme environment; they call it the birthplace of the winds for a very good reason. So, we need to show that this can be done here.”
“People also are calling from St. Paul and St. George in the Bering Sea,” said Julie Decker, AFDF executive director. “They want to know what they need to do to get started.”
The global commercial seaweed market is projected to top $22 billion by 2024, with human consumption as the largest segment. Growers in Maine fetch 50-60 cents a pound for edible grades; their rock weed crop brings in $20 million a year. Chile estimates a kelp industry would bring in $540 million annually. And Japan’s $2 billion nori industry is one of the world’s most valuable crops.
Seaweed also benefits the planet by absorbing five times more carbon from the atmosphere than land-based plants.