Walker orders mariculture task force
Gov. Bill Walker issued an administrative order on Feb. 29 establishing a mariculture task force for shellfish and sea plants.
Walker’s order responds to both economic and ecological concerns. The release touts the potential economic benefits to coastal communities and the Alaska fishing industry. Further, as ocean acidification continues to impact shellfish, Walker said the stocks need all the help they can get in recovering.
“Mariculture represents a tremendous opportunity to diversify our economy, strengthen our coastal communities, and provide healthy food to the world by using sustainable practices that are a foundation of our current fishery resources,” said Walker in a release. “The goal of this task force is to bring key stakeholders together and determine how the state can help this industry prosper with Alaska-grown products.”
The task force carries no additional cost to the state – rather than establishing a budgeted agency, it asks for officials and stakeholders to meet a minimum of once every quarter to come up with a mariculture development plan.
The governor will appoint members to the eleven-member task force. These will include the commissioners of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Developments, a University of Alaska representative, the director of the Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program, seven at-large stakeholders with backgrounds in seafood farming, marketing, or harvesting, as well as experience in Alaska Native corporations, tribal governments, or Community Development Quota groups.
Task force members will not receive compensation from the state. The Alaska Mariculture Task Force will be required to submit a comprehensive plan to the governor by March 1, 2018
Mariculture farms marine life in saltwater, as opposed to aquaculture, which farms in fresh. Alaska, though it has 30,000 miles of available coastline, has a wary relationship with seafood farming.
The Legislature banned salmon farming in 1989 as other seafood-based economies overseas began experimenting with it. Commercial fishermen in Alaska voiced concerns of market competition, product safety, and ecosystem impacts. Only state-run hatcheries may rear salmon, and these are released into the ocean and provided as common harvest for Alaska fishermen.
Nations like Norway, Iceland, Canada, and Chile now produce a majority of the world’s farmed salmon. The majority of U.S. salmon is farmed salmon imported from these nations. Alaska’s mariculture output lags behind with an average annual value of less than $1 million.
Shellfish and sea plant mariculture, however, is legal in Alaska. Walker’s mariculture task force follows the Alaska Crab Research, Rehabilitation, and Biology Program, which released an experimental batch of red king crab in 2013.
DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]