New NOAA Alaska Aquaculture Coordinator Moves Program Forward
Alicia Bishop brings 11 years of federal regulatory experience to new role as the Alaska Region’s Aquaculture Coordinator
Why did the position of the Alaska Region’s Aquaculture Coordinator appeal to you?
It is an exciting time to be involved in marine aquaculture. There is growing interest nationally in improving food security, coastal resiliency, and job creation. Marine aquaculture enhances all of these issues, and can be done in an environmentally friendly and sustainable manner. In Alaska, finfish farming is prohibited in state waters, but marine aquaculture also known as mariculture—includes the enhancement, restoration, and farming of marine invertebrates (primarily shellfish) and macroalgae (seaweed)—is permissible in state waters. Considering how large Alaska’s coastline is with pristine waters, we have so much potential for aquaculture expansion. I am interested in working with stakeholders to foster marine aquaculture as a complement to our world class wild caught fisheries in Alaska.
What are you looking forward to most in your new job?
I like working with diverse groups of people to come up with creative ways of addressing challenges and opportunities. Marine aquaculture in Alaska is still a pretty nascent field. That gives us lots of opportunities to learn from other regions and parts of the world and craft a program that is right for Alaska, our people, and our natural resources. This is a new position for the Alaska Region, and it provides a clean slate for developing a new program. That can seem daunting at times, but it also keeps things interesting.
What do you think will be your biggest challenge?
There is so much opportunity for growth in marine aquaculture and so many interesting research questions that it can be difficult to determine where is best to begin. A challenge in this position is going to be taking a strategic approach to aquaculture development. Thankfully there has been a lot of great work done by the Mariculture Task Force with the creation of the Alaska Mariculture Development Plan. This work provided the foundation for the Alaska Mariculture Workshop we held in Ketchikan in January. Collectively the Development Plan and Workshop Summary Report are being used to develop a NOAA Fisheries Alaska Aquaculture Strategic Plan identifying those critical junctures where our agency can help advance sustainable aquaculture development.
On May 7, 2020, President Trump signed a new Executive Order that includes an emphasis on aquaculture. Does that Executive Order address any barriers or challenges identified at the Alaska Mariculture Workshop held in Ketchikan in January?
Yes, there’s a lot of alignment with some of the barriers to aquaculture development in Alaska that were identified in the workshop, and calls to action identified under the Executive Order. One of these issues is the need for more efficient and predictable aquaculture permitting. The workshop identified the need for an online portal that creates a one-stop-shop for all necessary leasing, permitting, and consultation steps necessary for aquaculture development, and an ability for applicants to track progress over time.
Another barrier the workshop raised was the need for siting tools to help identify existing user group areas, overlap with listed species and essential fish habitat, and desired habitat features for growth. The need for pre-approved aquaculture sites where applicants can test and develop operations was a mechanism identified to help advance aquaculture. The EO identifies the need to develop aquaculture opportunity areas to reduce ocean user conflicts and connect applicants with needed siting tools.
What is your vision for Alaska's Aquaculture industry?
To develop a robust marine aquaculture program in Alaska balanced with our other ocean user groups in an environmentally sound manner. This program would be supported by the cutting edge research provided by our science center.
We cannot do this alone, so collaboration and partnership are keys for success.
What is something surprising that most people don't know about you?
I grew up in Arkansas. It is really interesting seeing how all of these seemingly disparate pieces of my life are all of a sudden fitting together. While an undergraduate at the University of Arkansas I worked in nutrition, microbiology, and molecular biology labs with the Poultry Science Department. All of this work looked at how feed, food safety, and breeding impact poultry production. Arkansas is second nationally in poultry production which may not surprise you, but they are also second nationally in aquaculture production.
I worked at Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Oregon in the Shellfish Genetics Laboratory. The Molluscan Broodstock Program sought to improve performance of Pacific oysters using genetic selection. Again, I was researching how to help industry improve yield.
Nearly all of my adult career has been spent with the National Marine Fisheries Service. I have over 11 years of federal regulatory experience with NOAA Fisheries. Before becoming the Alaska Regional Aquaculture Coordinator, I worked at two science centers (Alaska Fisheries Science Center and Hatfield Marine Science Center), two regional offices (Northwest Region and Alaska Region), and headquarters (Office of Habitat Conservation). For the last eight years I worked at the Alaska Regional Office in the Protected Resources Division. I served as the Endangered Species Act Section 7 Coordinator ensuring consistency among consultations, improving consultation efficiencies, standardizing mitigation measures, and partnering with stakeholders to find creative approaches to endangered species conservation.
All of these skills will come in handy in helping move aquaculture forward in Alaska. We’ll need to address the tough research challenges like better understanding population genetics of seaweeds, we’ll need to identify and reduce ocean user conflicts for siting projects, and we’ll need to create regulatory efficiencies that still protect our resources and ecosystems. Partnering with stakeholders—industry, tribes, communities, hatcheries, non-governmental organizations, policy makers, regulators, and researchers—will help us all prioritize those critical next steps.