Alaska aquaculture is growing quickly, but faces roadblocks

seaweed farming
Seaweed farming with Seagrove Kelp Co. in Doyle Bay, near Craig, on Prince of Wales Island. (From NOAA Fisheries)

Aquaculture is a new, but rapidly growing industry in Alaska. That’s according to a recent report from the National Marine Fisheries Service, or NOAA Fisheries, on the state of Alaska’s water-based farming.

James Currie is an Alaska Sea Grant fellow who authored the February report. He said it’s meant to provide an approachable overview for curious non-experts.

“So there have been steady increases over preceding years in our production of oysters and seaweed,” Currie said. “And it’s a really exciting time for the aquaculture industry overall, just in terms of we’re receiving more applications on average year by year.”

Finfish farming is illegal in Alaska, so the primary species grown are shellfish like oysters or various types of kelp. The total pounds of seaweed harvested has ballooned in recent years, going from just over 18,000 in 2017 to nearly 900,000 in 2022. 

But along with the excitement around the growing industry, Currie said there are a few notable challenges — what he called “fundamental bottlenecks.” Most of those involve a headache shared by many Alaska entrepreneurs: logistics.

Currie said oysters can be challenging to keep alive and ship long distances, and seaweed is primarily made up of water, making it extremely heavy.

“So one of the needs for the aquaculture industry is more industry to actually process that seaweed immediately as it comes out of the water and dry it down and refine it in some way, so that it is stabilized and easier to ship in large quantities,” Currie said.

Currie sees that as something that can be addressed on a community level, creating new business opportunities for locals to find collaborative solutions.

The report also provides easy access to the various funding opportunities available to Alaskans interested in getting into aquaculture.

NOAA Fisheries will hold a spatial planning workshop in Juneau March 26-27 to discuss Aquaculture Opportunity Areas in Alaska.

Previous articleAlaska development authority signs contracts with ex-Dunleavy aides, paying up to $295/hour
Next articleAI and Alaskan businesses | Talk of Alaska