NOAA Fisheries is dedicated to supporting the aquaculture (also known as “mariculture”) industry in Alaska. In Alaska, aquaculture initiatives primarily involve Pacific oysters, seaweed, and blue mussels (finfish farming is illegal in Alaska State waters).
The Alaskan aquaculture industry is in a period of growth, and many local, state and federal efforts are focused on supporting this developing industry. Aquaculture can be beneficial both to local communities and the environment, boosting coastal economies and providing habitat to marine organisms.
NOAA Fisheries promotes scientific research and economic development that can sustainably advance the growth of the Alaskan aquaculture industry.
The NOAA Fisheries Alaska Aquaculture Program has been engaged in a variety of projects over the last year, each of which aligns with NOAA’s recently released 2023-2028 Aquaculture Strategic Plan. Our FY23 aquaculture activities supported three of NOAA’s national Aquaculture strategic goals:
- Manage Sustainably and Efficiently
- Lead Science for Sustainability
- Educate and Exchange Information
NOAA Fisheries supports cutting-edge research, as well as policy-making and regulation. We work closely with partners to improve and expand opportunities to promote sustainable marine production of shellfish and seaweed in Alaska.
NOAA’s Alaska Aquaculture Program has just released its 2023 Aquaculture Accomplishments Report. In 2023, NOAA’s Alaska Aquaculture Program prioritized 10 of 17 national objectives listed in the 2023-2028 Aquaculture Strategic Plan. This report highlights the 14 projects that supported each of the above Alaska aquaculture priorities. It also provides updates on other accomplishments over the last year. These projects are diverse in scope and design. They all pursue the goal of promoting sustainable aquaculture growth in Alaska state waters.
Assessing the Potential Habitat Provisioning of Kelp Aquaculture Farms in Alaska
One highlight from the year is a project currently underway at the NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center’s (AFSC) Kodiak Lab. This project is a collaboration with local farmers to investigate how farmed seaweed compares to natural seaweed beds as a habitat for local marine animal species. Dr. Alix Laferriere is using video surveys, Standard Monitoring Units for the Recruitment of Fish (SMURFs), and environmental DNA (eDNA) to compare the diversity and abundance of species living in farmed seaweed beds versus in natural beds. This will help illuminate to what extent seaweed aquaculture provides habitat for local Alaskan species. The information collected by this study will help determine the benefits of siting kelp farms in Alaska. The Alaska Regional Office is also producing a short video for the broader public documenting this project.
Oyster Selective Breeding
Another highlight from fiscal year 2023 is an oyster selective breeding program
established at NOAA Fisheries’ Alaska Fisheries Science Center’s Auke Bay Laboratories, located at the Ted Stevens Marine Research Institute (TSMRI) in Juneau. This project is intended to address the Alaska oyster industry’s current
reliance on oyster seed spawned outside of Alaska, and the resulting shortage of hatchery seed supply and insecurity for Alaskan oyster farmers.
NOAA Fisheries researchers, led by Dr. Jordan Hollarsmith, have begun building a hatchery to house, condition, and spawn oyster broodstock and subsequent generations. We expect that this project will help solve the scientific barriers and identify cost efficiencies to producing larvae and seed that are optimized for growth in Alaska.
Develop Portfolio of Marine Spatial Analysis Data for Aquaculture Development in Alaska
In June 2023, NOAA announced the selection of Alaska as the next region to begin the Aquaculture Opportunity Area (AOA) identification process. This multi-year process is being led by Alaska Regional Aquaculture Coordinator Alicia Bishop. Part of this process will include a collaboration between the NOAA Fisheries Alaska Regional Office and the National Centers for Coastal and Ocean Science to produce a portfolio of marine spatial analysis data for aquaculture development in Alaska.
The data we collect during the AOA process (from stakeholders, members of the public, tribal communities, state and federal agencies and other organizations) will lay the groundwork for future Site Suitability Analysis and the development of Atlases as part of the Alaska AOA identification process.
The new 2023 Aquaculture Accomplishments report is revelatory not only by showing what the Alaska Aquaculture Program has accomplished over the last year, but also how much work is still underway.