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Alaska Mariculture Cluster Wins Regional Challenge Grant for Aquaculture

October 19, 2022

The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration issues awards for impactful economic development initiatives.

Two aquaculture workers pull a line of kelp out of the water and into their boat, on Seagrove Kelp Co's farm site. Buoy markers are present on the water's surface. Alaska mariculture in practice - seaweed farming in Doyle Bay, Alaska with Seagrove Kelp Co. Credit: NOAA Fisheries

As part of the Build Back Better Regional Challenge, the Alaska Mariculture Cluster has won nearly $49 million in grants to support the local Alaska mariculture industry. This will enable shellfish and seaweed aquaculture to expand in the state. The Alaska Mariculture Cluster is one of 21 winners throughout the country that were chosen based on their ability to transform their region’s economy. 

The Alaska Mariculture Cluster was chosen due to Alaska’s existing mariculture labor force, abundant coastline for growing shellfish and seaweed, and unique focus on Indigenous and rural representation. The region is well-positioned to meet domestic and international aquaculture needs, but has lacked the initial capital investment. The grant will secure Alaska’s future in mariculture development, furthering ingenuity and best practices in the industry. 

Alaska Mariculture Cluster

The Alaska Mariculture Cluster is part of the Southeast Conference Coalition, the state and federally designated regional economic development organization for Southeast Alaska. The Cluster will also partner with Sealaska, an Alaska Native Corporation representing more than 23,000 Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian stakeholders. 

The Cluster will distribute 50 percent of the award to underserved communities, with a quarter of the total funds going to Alaska Native communities. “Mariculture provides an opportunity during new resource development to address the inequities [faced by many Alaska Native villages] by prioritizing tribal and Alaska Native leadership, ownership and participation in mariculture, as well as providing services such as training, financing, and other business development to support equitable opportunity,” states the Alaska Mariculture Cluster Overarching Narrative.

Mariculture is currently a $1.5 million industry in Alaska, but the award to the Southeast Conference could grow the industry to encompass more than $1.85 billion in 10 years. With more than 35,000 miles of coastline, Alaska is ideally situated for unlimited opportunities in aquaculture. This award will allow coastal industries the chance to foster mariculture growth throughout the region. 

The partner logos of the Alaska Mariculture Cluster.
Alaska Mariculture Cluster partners. Credit: AlaskaMaricultureCluster.org

Funds Foster Growth

The Alaska Mariculture Cluster stretches a distance comparable to the width of the continental United States. This award will allow for the growth of the mariculture industry and prioritize tribal and Alaska Native leadership. 

The Cluster represents various aquaculture businesses and aligns them into a larger mariculture industry. The award will encompass the following components:  

  • Governance, coordination, and outreach
  • Workforce development
  • Equipment and technology
  • Green energy
  • Research and development
  • Marketing
  • Revolving loan fund 

The revolving loan fund will provide funding for local businesses to grow, development of mariculture-focused workforce training programs, and research support to grow innovative seaweed and shellfish products. Another project includes solving the supply and demand issue of shellfish and seaweed seed by building additional hatchery and nursery facilities.

“This is such an exciting opportunity for Alaska aquaculture development. The focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion, and connecting with coastal community needs in Alaska sets this project up for success. NOAA Fisheries is eager to engage with the Alaska Mariculture Cluster coalition and aid in implementation,” stated Alicia Bishop, the Alaska Regional Aquaculture Coordinator.

Alaska aquaculture scientists also received funding from the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council, totaling $32 million over the next 10 years. The funds are  focused on aquaculture research in the spill area. Over the last 3 years, NOAA Fisheries has aided aquaculture development in the state through the creation of two positions: an Alaska Regional Aquaculture Coordinator and an Aquaculture and Macroalgae Lead Researcher. We also created an Alaska Aquaculture Permitting Portal, increasing long-term capacity, permitting efficiency, and overall capabilities of Alaska’s aquaculture industry.

Alaska is experiencing a flood of interest in aquaculture development. Recent financial investments in Alaska aquaculture include: ARPA-E $2.5M for seaweed research; USDA $500K for aquaculture incubator and processing facility; Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council $32M aquaculture research; EDA BBB $49M + 20% match; Alaska Legislature $5M aquaculture matching grant program, and $7M to University of Alaska for aquaculture training and development.

Last updated by Office of Aquaculture on December 30, 2022