AK Mariculture Effort Wins Grant | Alaska

“It’s a moonshot,” said Robert Venables, executive director of the Southeastern Conference, of the challenges ahead and the potential benefits of the growing industry to raise and harvest shellfish and shellfish. algae in larger commercial quantities.

“It’s a big deal,” said Julie Decker of Wrangell, executive director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, one of the coalition partners.

The Alaska Mariculture Cluster, as the group is called, already has $15 million in matching funds and in-kind services to add to the federal grant, Venables said last Friday, citing Sealaska as a donor.

The group plans to set up a revolving credit fund for the production of shellfish and seaweed. Federal funding will also go towards skills training programs, research and development, marketing, planning and technical support for green energy in the mariculture industry, as well as equipment and technology to help solve the challenges of building hatchery and nursery capacity to create shellfish and algae. plant.

The money will be used to develop “a viable and sustainable mariculture industry producing shellfish and aquatic plants for the long-term benefit of Alaska’s economy, environment and communities,” according to a statement. prepared published by the Southeastern Conference, a Southeastern non-profit organization. municipal governments and businesses.

There are several oyster and kelp farms in the state, but their total sales are only a fraction of the Alaska Mariculture Cluster’s 20-year goal of a $100 million-a-year industry. with 1,500 jobs producing and selling Pacific oysters, geoducks, kelp, blue mussels, red king crab, sea cucumbers and other species.

“We want to use this money to build capacity” to grow, harvest and market shellfish, kelp and other seaweed, Venables said. As an example, he said, the group plans to discuss with the state expanding operations to ensure the state lab can handle additional shellfish testing for commercial sales. .

Several international companies are planning to invest in mariculture in the state, he said. “They will see this (federal grant) as a stimulus.”

The group also plans to work with the university and the Alaska Sea Grant Network, tribes, vocational programs and high schools to strengthen training programs for industry jobs.

More jobs and workforce training may be the first things the public sees from the grant, Decker said. “Hopefully more people put stuff in the water, apply for sites.” Many of the harvesting and rearing hatchery work will be similar to salmon hatchery work, she said.

In addition to the Southeastern Conference, coalition members include the state, Prince William Sound Economic Development District, Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District, Southwest Alaska Municipal Conference , Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, Alaska Mariculture Alliance, University of Alaska. , Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation and Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association.

The state budget this year includes a $5 million grant to the Alaska Mariculture Alliance.

Venables credits a state mariculture task force with much of the homework that ultimately led to the successful federal grant application. Then-Governor. Bill Walker created the task force in 2016. The group presented its final report to Governor Mike Dunleavy in May 2021.

“That body of work was really the foundation of it all,” Venables said of the federal grant.

The Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation deserves credit for much of the work that has gone into establishing the program to develop a mariculture industry in the state, Venables said.

Years of work, research and collaboration were important to having a plan ready to go when federal funding became available, Decker said.

Earlier this year, the Southeastern Conference received a $500,000 federal grant to gather additional economic data and assemble its larger grant application.

The $49 million grant is one of 21 awarded nationwide last Friday as part of the regional $1 billion Build Back Better Challenge, managed by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration. The program awarded funds to regional coalitions representing 24 states.

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