Mariculture is a developing industry that provides multiple benefits to the people of Alaska: economic, environmental, and cultural. In Alaska, the term mariculture specifically refers to enhancement, restoration and farming of shellfish and seaweed. Our state is perfectly positioned to incorporate the numerous benefits of mariculture, thanks to several factors: the vast and pristine waters of Alaska; the existing seafood industry; the skills and abilities of coastal Alaskans who work on the water; the cultural knowledge of Alaska Natives; and the Alaska seafood brand established by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.
Another critical factor for helping develop mariculture is the support of the state of Alaska, because most of the activities will occur in state waters. In 2016, former Gov. Bill Walker established the Alaska Mariculture Task Force with the directive to provide recommendations to develop a viable and sustainable mariculture industry. In 2018, the Alaska Mariculture Development Plan was completed and adopted by the state. The goal of the plan is to grow a $100 million-per-year mariculture industry in 20 years.
Following his election in 2018, Gov. Mike Dunleavy decided to keep the task force in place, because he recognized the positive work towards economic development that had already been accomplished. Gov. Dunleavy shares the vision of what this new industry could mean to the state: jobs and opportunities. In the first year of the Dunleavy administration, the Alaska Development Team, supported by the governor and his staff, has been working closely with the Mariculture Task Force to make progress on several priority issues. These have included statutory and regulatory hurdles, needed infrastructure, mariculture research and marketing of mariculture products.
State support, spanning multiple administrations, is critical to reach the goal of growing a $100 million mariculture industry in 20 years. We are thankful for the support of Gov. Dunleavy, Ben Stevens, Matt Fagnani and Clark Penney of the Alaska Development Team and additional agency staff, who jumped in the boat with us and helped row in the same direction.
Julie Decker is the Executive Director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, chair of the Alaska Mariculture Task Force and part of a commercial fishing family based in Wrangell, Alaska.
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