The University of Alaska Fairbanks recently established the Alaska Blue Economy Center to help advance new research, education and economic opportunities for Alaska.
“I am thrilled to have this new center approved by UAF Chancellor White. This represents an opportunity to help spur innovation and technology development in Alaska’s burgeoning blue economy,” said UAF College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences Dean Bradley Moran. “The launch of ABEC comes at a critical time as the state seeks to diversify and grow its economy and workforce.”
The term “blue economy” refers to the use of ocean resources for economic growth, including traditional sectors such as fisheries, coastal tourism and oil and gas exploration, as well as the rapidly growing areas of ocean technology development, renewable energy and marine biotechnology.
With more than half of the nation’s coastline and roughly one-third of the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone, Alaska is well-positioned to be a leader in the blue economy.
A central goal of ABEC is to help grow and diversify Alaska’s marine workforce. For example, the center will facilitate collaboration and innovation to address ocean economic challenges and opportunities. ABEC combines expertise in research, instruction and public engagement related to Alaska’s aquatic resources and ecosystems.
“Alaska has the opportunity to add tremendous value to our fisheries resources, bringing needed dollars and jobs into Alaska,” said UAF Chancellor Dan White.
In addition to supporting Alaska’s existing sectors, the center seeks to find sustainable options for growth that preserve and protect Alaska’s thriving marine resources.
Researchers at the UAF College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, or CFOS, are already actively engaged in projects and activities that benefit Alaska’s fishery and aquaculture industries around the state. One current project investigates the reproductive rates of seaweed in Southcentral Alaska to help determine whether changes in regulations could make it easier to sustainably harvest seaweed near Homer.
Another looks at the causes and consequences of whale predation on hatchery-released salmon in Chatham Strait near Sitka. Researchers at the Kodiak Seafood and Marine Science Center are developing a technique and recipe to process fish skins from seafood processors into dog treats, a unique and innovative way to eliminate seafood waste. These projects highlight the role of research in developing sustainable ocean industries to benefit the state of Alaska.
UAF also supports Alaska’s blue economy in ways outside of its traditional research programs. One such avenue is through training the next generation of blue economy leaders. In 2018, UAF established the nation’s only online Blue MBA degree to provide leaders with the tools to work at the intersection of business and aquatic resources.
The program, designed for students with a background in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, will give students the knowledge and skills needed to develop business models to ensure the sustainable use of marine and freshwater resources.
ABEC will serve as the umbrella organization for these research and teaching activities, relying on strong collaborations with research and agency partners at UAF and around the state.
“We look forward to partnering with CFOS to ensure that our blue economies and industries have the necessary ocean observations, data and information products they need to make wise decisions about the sustainable use of our ocean and coastal resources,” said Molly McCammon, director of the Alaska Ocean Observing System.
CFOS has also partnered with the Bering Sea Fisheries Association and the Alaska Ocean Cluster to implement a new Blue Pipeline Incubator, a think tank geared at promoting ocean-related businesses that support the resiliency of coastal economies around the state.
Based at the CFOS Seward Marine Center, the new program will seek out innovative leaders and businesses aiming to increase revenues, expand their workforce and mentor new programs around the state.
In 2017, the CFOS Kodiak Seafood and Marine Science Center received a half-million-dollar federal grant to partner with Blue Evolution — a private company that cultivates and markets seaweed products — to improve methods of growing, harvesting and transporting farmed sugar kelp, a common edible seaweed.
Seaweed farming is a multibillion-dollar industry worldwide that presents a new economic opportunity for coastal Alaska. ABEC aims to be on the frontlines in providing research and workforce opportunities to catalyze Alaska’s participation in this burgeoning industry.
ABEC will help unify organizations that already advocate for sustainable use of marine resources, such as Alaska Sea Grant and the UAF Alaska Center for Energy and Power.
“The very essence of the blue economy is to promote sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, jobs and ecosystem health, and this is a mirror of Sea Grant’s mission,” said Alaska Sea Grant Director Heather Brandon. “Essentially all the work of Alaska Sea Grant supports and grows the blue economy. The new center will amplify Alaska Sea Grant’s impact, and vice versa.”
Gwen Holdmann, director of ACEP, said, “Access to affordable and reliable energy sources to support the blue economy, and tapping into the vast potential Alaska has in tidal and current energy as one possible growth area, is something the Alaska Center for Energy and Power is very interested in supporting.”
These projects and programs represent UAF’s commitment to grow Alaska’s blue economy, spur innovation and sustain the marine and inland aquatic resources that Alaskans depend on. With the new Alaska Blue Economy Center, we will be better equipped to capitalize on Alaska’s coastal energy and environmental resources.