Mariculture meetup gives direction to growing industry
From oyster to kelp farmers, mariculture industry members gathered to share their experiences as part of a five year, $49 million project to develop mariculture in Alaska.
The Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District held a mariculture meetup on Aug. 9 at Kenai Peninsula College Kachemak Bay Campus in Homer to connect industry members and to gather information on how to sustainably develop Alaska’s mariculture industry.
The meetup had multiple speakers and breakout sessions for people to learn about the challenges of the industry, and to discuss potential solutions.
Marie Bader, a former oyster farmer with decades of experience, provided a historical perspective for mariculture in the peninsula and highlighted its potential in the state.
“Commercial fishing has dominated, but we can grow stuff, right in our backyards, of water gardens and commercial gardens for the benefit of the whole world,” Bader said.
The event is part of a five year project run by four economic development districts in the state and the Alaska Mariculture Alliance. Last year, the project received a $49 millionBuild Back Better Grant to sustainably develop the state’s mariculture industry.
The Alaska Mariculture Alliancedefines mariculture as the production of aquatic shellfish like oysters and plants like kelp, but not finned animals.
Alaska State Rep. Sarah Vance also attended the meetup to learn more about the mariculture industry and to get feedback from attendees on a new bill related to reducing regulation for mariculture leases.
“I'm here to find out if this bill is something that will help the industry get their ideas on what it should be and craft the piece of legislation to help promote their industry and make the business easier for them to do what they do best. And that's farming,” Vance said.
Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District special projects manager Cassidi Cameron said the meetup identified some challenges in the industry, such as bottlenecks in testing oysters to see if they’re safe to eat. The meetup, combined with continued collaboration with the mariculture alliance gave the districts vital information for future actions.
“We're trying to make sure that we are approaching and strategizing in a really intentional way and thoughtful manner and acknowledge all the stakeholders and partners that are involved and make sure that we can develop this industry that can go beyond the scope of the project,” Cameron said.
In a visit to Homer on Thursday, US Sen. Lisa Murkowski also spoke about the Keep America’s Waterfronts Working Act – a bill that could open up research and growth of the mariculture industry.
“We're working to incorporate additional avenues to help those who are in these very entrepreneurial areas, helping with research through the programmatic funding, which I think is also going to be important making grant opportunities available,” Murkowski said.
Moving forward, the project will continue to support mariculture business owners through providing industry specific loans, equipment recommendations and doing market research to expand where products can be sold.