Millions of acres of untouched wilderness surround the Kachemak Bay growing area of Alaska Shellfish Farms, family-owned and operated by Weatherly and Greg Bates. Located in Halibut Cove, Alaska, the bay is fed by glaciers that merge with the northern Pacific Ocean. This cold pristine environment creates ideal growing conditions for the oysters, mussels, and varieties of seaweed cultivated on site.
The farm’s popular Glacier Point Oysters are a Pacific Oyster, grown for up to 4 years in some of the coldest waters in Alaska. Alaskan oysters are known for a flavor profile that is crisp, clean, and less briny than other oysters; it is comparable to cucumber or melon. Unlike other oyster varieties that can lose flavor when they reach maturity, Glacier Points do not reproduce (spawn)—allowing them to retain their refreshing flavor for longer.
The farm grows oysters from seed, and plants them alongside naturally occurring mussels and kelp. The resident kelp provides an inviting home for invertebrates, such as sea urchins, scallops, worms, fish, and tiger rockfish—a vulnerable species that can live for more than 120 years. The kelp limits water acidity by absorbing carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change) and supporting healthy oyster growth.
A Focus on Sustainability
Years ago when facing a major oyster seed shortage, the Bates family decided to add mussels to its product line. Alaska Shellfish Farms is now one of the only aquaculture operations in the state of Alaska that raises native Alaskan blue mussels. Mussels are widely acknowledged as one of the most environmentally sustainable animal proteins. One mussel can filter approximately 15 gallons of water per day.
At this point, the farm can’t help but grow high yields of mussels. Weatherly Bates says, “Billions of baby mussels coat every inch of our farm. They are prolific and occur naturally, so we don’t have to provide a food source, hatchery, or other resources. It’s a great cost savings!”
The farm favors an ecosystem-based approach to aquaculture. “Other than oysters, we love not having to rely on a hatchery. In our view, the more natural the better,” adds Bates.
From Farm to Table
Featured in restaurants across the country, the farm’s products are locally available through farm pickup, an honor system stand, and an innovative “kelp share” program.
Through the kelp share, Alaska Shellfish Farms gives fresh kelp to local vendors so they can experiment with new uses and products. According to Bates, trying to find a market for kelp has been challenging, but “creating a market that wasn’t there” is finally catching on. In addition to sharing kelp, Weatherly offers popular educational workshops to help chefs and seaweed enthusiasts incorporate more of it into their dishes.
The Bates family won the 2020 Alaska Farm Family of the Year award. As the COVID-19 pandemic closed off national markets, they focused more on local sales. This included unique solutions, such as tying a small boat to shore and loading it with oysters for sale on the “honor system.” This increased access to fresh seafood for locals, and led to the nomination which secured the award.
Recipe: Alaskan Seaweed Salad
Sea kelp is a more specific term for seaweed. This easy and delicious seaweed salad serves four.
- 1 ounce dried kelp
- 1 ½ tablespoons rice vinegar
- 1 tablespoon mirin
- 3 tablespoons sesame oil
- 1 ½ tablespoons soy sauce
- ¼ teaspoon ginger powder
- ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
- 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
- ¼ teaspoon chili flakes
- Rehydrate kelp in fresh water for 10 minutes. Drain and cut into thin strips.
- Combine ingredients to make a sauce. Toss with seaweed and marinate for at least 30 minutes (up to two days).
- Optional: top with additional sesame seeds.
Sustainable Seafood from Tide to Table
The Tide to Table series profiles members of the aquaculture community, who provide valuable jobs and increase access to fresh, sustainably sourced American seafood. Aquaculture is more than seafood production. It is about ecosystem stewardship, coastal communities, and economic opportunities.