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Ketchikan is amazing in its dedication to build industry and create jobs.
It just keeps on keeping on, rolling up the proverbial sleeves, putting in one hour after the next — sometimes for decades — all the time with a goal of a thriving economy.
With the effort come the periods of disappointment and delay, but staying focused on the goal and taking the next step without giving in has proved to be the way of the community. It finds the "doors" that allow it to move forward.
That is the case for OceansAlaska Marine Science Center, which started out as the Tongass Coast Aquarium project in the early 1990s. Through the years, its journey has led it to be an integral player in the development of Alaska's mariculture industry.
This past summer it opened its water-based facility in George Inlet and produced oyster and geoduck seed for sale.
Now, it is in the enviable position of being a beacon of hope for oyster farms, which didn't realize enough seed for the 2011 and 2012 summer seasons. They are looking to OceansAlaska to provide it in 2013 and beyond.
These aren't only Alaska farms, either. British Columbia and Lower 48 farmers turned to OceansAlaska during the season for seed, too, in part because of acidic water conditions that limited supply there. If only OceansAlaska had had sufficient supply.
The farms are seeking it because there's a market for oysters, an ever-growing market.
Sealaska Corp. subsidiary Haa Aani is active in mariculture, realizing the potential for village youth employment and local economies. Haa Aani has agreed to buy OceansAlaska's oyster seed in 2013 at a premium price.
The purchase will allow the Native corporation to help the villages create careers and jobs for its youth. Working with OceansAlaska, it not only gains the seed, but the education and knowledge for the youth and others who might be interested in owning or working at mariculture farms. The industry jobs and education aren't limited to the Native corporations; it available to all.
OceansAlaska will begin preparing for the 2013 season in January, producing algae to feed the oyster and geoduck. It expects to produce between 5 million and 10 million oyster seed and 100,000 geoduck seed.
Alaska's 2012 demand for oyster seed was 10 million, but only 3 million were available. OceansAlaska expects to increase supply to about 20 million by 2017.
OceansAlaska already needs to expand the size of its facility to handle the demand. It has set a goal of building a larger facility, basing it on the opposite side of its site as the current building occupied during the summer. The larger building would allow OceansAlaska to produce about 50 million oyster seed and 3 million geoduck seed.
Those numbers translate into millions of dollars for the economy.
Alaska and Ketchikan in particular enjoy the clean environment and knowledge necessary to produce mariculture seed. The "door" is open for the state and the community; both would be fiscally irresponsible and negligent to fail to enter, or to enter too slowly, into this next opportunity presented by this fledging industry.
OceansAlaska proved itself in the mariculture industry this year. It will expand upon its success in 2013.