Identifying Aquaculture Opportunity Areas in Alaska
NOAA Fisheries and the State of Alaska are moving forward with a multi-year process to identify Aquaculture Opportunity Areas in state waters.
What are AOAs?
Aquaculture Opportunity Areas (AOAs), are defined geographic areas evaluated through both spatial analysis and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review processes that are determined to be environmentally, socially, and economically appropriate to support multiple commercial aquaculture operations. The size and location for AOAs will be determined through spatial analysis, Indigenous Knowledge, and public engagement. This will allow NOAA and the State of Alaska to identify areas that are appropriate for commercial aquaculture. NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science will provide spatial analysis support for Alaska AOA process. Site suitability analysis will use whole-ecosystem spatial modeling methods aimed at capturing best available data and stakeholder input.
This is a multi-year process in which NOAA and the State of Alaska will work to analyze locations and identify AOAs in Alaska State waters to help sustainably advance aquaculture – also referred to in Alaska as mariculture.
AOAs in Alaska
During a 60-day public comment period in Fall 2020, Alaska received more letters of support than any other region including:
- Governor Mike Dunleavy
- Alaska Department of Fish and Game
- Alaska State Representative Louise Stutes
- Chugach Regional Resources Commission
- The Alaska Mariculture Task Force
- Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation
- Valdez Fisheries Development Association Inc.
- Southeast Conference
- Southwest Alaska Municipal Conference
- Prince William Sound Science Center
- Individuals (Erik Obrien and Thea Thomas)
In Alaska, the effort to identify AOAs will be focused in state waters and NOAA will only consider invertebrate (e.g., shellfish, sea cucumber, etc) and seaweed farming. NOAA will not consider finfish aquaculture during identification of AOAs in Alaska because it is prohibited by state law.
NOAA will use advancements in science and a combination of mapping tools, which use the best available data and Indigenous Knowledge to account for key environmental, economic, social, and cultural considerations (e.g., fishing, protected areas, subsistence use) to identify areas that may support sustainable aquaculture development.
The identification of AOAs is a planning process. While identifying AOAs can help applicants with site selection and environmental analysis, it is not a preapproval for any location. Applicants for future aquaculture operations will still have to go through the full state and federal permitting processes.
NOAA has directives to preserve ocean sustainability and facilitate domestic aquaculture in the U.S. through the National Aquaculture Act of 1980, the NOAA Marine Aquaculture Policy, and Executive Order 13921, “Promoting American Seafood Competitiveness and Economic Growth.”
Identifying AOAs is an opportunity for proactive stewardship to use best available science-based guidance on sustainable aquaculture management. Aquaculture in AOAs will support environmental, economic, and social sustainability. This approach has been refined and used widely within states and by other countries with robust, sustainable aquaculture sectors.
NOAA has a variety of proven science-based tools and strategies that can be used to consider how and where to sustainably develop aquaculture. Aquaculture farms can complement wild-capture fisheries, provide ecosystem services, and be compatible with other human uses of the oceans and minimize environmental impacts. They can also boost development of our nation’s seafood processing and distribution infrastructure.
NOAA Fisheries’ research activities for Alaska aquaculture have included oysters, seaweed, sea cucumbers, pinto abalone, weathervane scallops, and blue and red king crab. NOAA’s Ted Stevens Marine Research Institute in Juneau and the NOAA Kodiak Lab in Kodiak provide good research bases to support AOA identification in Alaska. Both sites have staff, small vessels, and analytical lab space available for aquaculture-related research, as well as ongoing research partnerships with seaweed and shellfish growers in each region.
Considering NOAA-trust resources, subsistence uses and protection of culturally sensitive or sacred sites, State aquaculture development goals, and stakeholder uses of a defined area will help to encourage the sustainable growth of aquaculture by siting aquaculture farms in ways that minimize impacts to those natural resources and reduce user conflicts while maximizing public input in the AOA identification process.
The identification of AOAs is a multi-year process.
Announce Alaska as the next location to identify future Aquaculture Opportunity Areas
Conduct outreach and begin data collection for modeling and siting analysis
Develop preliminary maps of study areas
Request for Information and stakeholder meeting to present tribes, communities, and interested parties with preliminary maps and seek feedback
Spring 2024 and Beyond
Refining spatial modeling and NEPA analysis