Why did NOAA select Alaska as the next region to begin AOA identification?
What Are AOAs?
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 investigated 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 planning support for Alaska AOA process. Spatial planning 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.
Will finfish farming be considered when identifying AOAs in Alaska?
No, we will only consider invertebrate (e.g., shellfish, sea cucumbers, etc.) and seaweed farming when identifying AOAs in Alaska. Finfish farming in Alaska state waters is prohibited by law.
How large will an AOA be and how will the size be determined?
There is no predetermined size for an AOA. The size and shape of each AOA will be determined as part of the AOA identification process using the best available science, Indigenous Knowledge, and stakeholder input. During this process, NOAA will work with federal and state partners, Tribes, and interested stakeholders to determine the appropriate size of each AOA. The size of AOAs may differ based on oceanographic conditions, other uses (e.g., fishing, subsistence harvest), and potential impacts to protected species and essential fish habitat, among other considerations.
Will all AOAs be in federal waters?
For this exploration in Alaska, only state waters will be considered. AOAs can be identified in federal or state waters, or a combination of the two. The first two AOAs in southern California and the Gulf of Mexico will be in federal waters.
If states express interest in identifying AOAs in state waters, that will be taken into consideration. NOAA requires that we have an explicit invitation from a state before we will consider AOAs in state waters. In the case of Alaska, this was supported by state agencies, state legislature, and Governor Dunleavy.
Is the aquaculture industry expanding in Alaska?
Yes, in recent years, the State of Alaska has seen a significant increase in aquatic farm applications and the farm acreage amount applied for. Alaska recently received nearly $100 million in funding to support the growth of the aquaculture industry through the Build Back Better Mariculture Cluster Project, Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council, and other state and federal contributions. Through the AOA identification process in Alaska, we will actively engage with the aquaculture stakeholder community, provide needed spatial analysis and NEPA review, and leverage other investments being made in Alaska.
How does the current Alaska aquaculture industry help the state?
Sustainable marine aquaculture—also referred to in Alaska as mariculture—currently helps support Alaska’s blue economy, contributing to sustainable seafood, and local economies. In 2022, aquaculture production sales in Alaska totaled $1.9 million. In addition, seaweed and shellfish aquaculture have been shown to provide ecosystem benefits including potentially buffering against ocean acidification and providing habitat for fish and invertebrate species. Aquaculture also establishes economic opportunities via the creation of jobs, eco-tourism, and other pathways.
What’s NOAA currently doing to support the growing aquaculture industry in Alaska?
NOAA Fisheries Alaska has been building its aquaculture program over the last few years. Together the Alaska Regional Office and the Alaska Fisheries Science Center strive to help meet both industry and management needs to foster responsible Alaskan farmed shellfish and seaweed. More details are available in a recent accomplishments report, including projects and actions the agency has undertaken to support the aquaculture industry in Alaska.
Is seaweed and invertebrate farming a viable industry in Alaska right now?
Yes. As of May 2023, Alaska currently has a total of 92 active mariculture operation permits, with 25 seaweed farms, including one of the largest seaweed farms in the United States. The state’s aquatic farms primarily grow shellfish and seaweed, but some also grow sea cucumber and urchins. Most are located along the coastline in either Southeast or Southcentral Alaska.
Is there room for aquaculture expansion in Alaska?
Yes. With more coastline than all of the Lower 48 states combined, Alaska aquaculture has room to grow, and efforts are underway to promote and expand this sustainable industry.
How is NOAA working with the State of Alaska for AOA identification?
As we begin the work to identify AOAs in Alaska, the Alaska State agencies will be crucial partners in helping NOAA co-develop an AOA process that best fits the needs of Alaska. One next step is conducting tribal engagement, and working closely with state and federal agencies to frame the AOA process in Alaska.
NOAA Fisheries received letters of support to explore AOAs in Alaska state waters from Governor Dunleavy, state agencies, state legislature, Alaska Native Organizations, industry, research institutions and individuals. There is a lot of excitement around co-developing this process.
How can Tribal nations provide input during the AOA process?
Tribal engagement will occur throughout the AOA identification process. NOAA will seek information on subsistence harvest locations, fishing areas, and other traditionally and culturally important locations through the spatial analysis process. In addition, NOAA will notify Tribal governments to explain the process of identifying and preparing a Programmatic NEPA review for each AOA. There will be multiple opportunities for Alaska Native Tribes and Organizations to comment on this effort.
How can members of the public provide input into the AOA identification process?
Stakeholder input is essential in the identification of AOAs, and this process will be shaped through public input throughout. We will conduct outreach in the coming months to our stakeholder communities, our state and federal regulatory partner agencies, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council and Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission, coastal managers and Alaska Native Tribes and Organizations, as well as the general public to provide updated AOA information and continue supporting transparent and inclusive dialogues. By including Indigenous Knowledge, public comments and the best available science in the identification of AOAs, these areas will expand opportunities for seafood production while minimizing potential user conflicts.
We are working to develop a timeline and details. Opportunities for the public and stakeholders to participate in the Alaska AOA identification process, include:
- Requests for Information when we begin the process in Alaska, to gather input on what factors we should consider to refine our prospective AOA study areas.
- Public stakeholder workshops discussing the Alaska AOA process, requesting input on possible study areas, and collecting data on existing uses in prospective AOA study areas.
- Public scoping for each Programmatic NEPA review.
- Public comment on each draft Programmatic NEPA review.
Information on upcoming and past public comment opportunities, transcripts of public meetings, and recorded presentations can be found here.