Southeast Alaska looks longingly for economic growth.
One relatively new and growing industry with huge potential is mariculture.
The Southeast Conference held its 2023 Mid-Session Summit in Juneau this week. The summit of representatives from communities throughout the region featured panels discussing the major Alaska industries.
This past year, mariculture was a $1.5 million industry.
It could grow to low revenue of $7 million, medium revenue of $60 million or a high revenue mark of $185 million over the next 10 years.
Even better numbers would be evident in 20 years: low revenue of $20 million, medium of $205 million or high of $500 million.
Seawood accounts for the majority of the revenue.
The seaweed sector of the mariculture industry had eight producing farms in 2022, with 24 others permitted and another 23 under review.
The harvest amounted to 560,000 pounds, of which 80,000 pounds was wild harvest, in 2022.
The harvest has made significant gains since 2017 when harvest totaled well below 200,000 pounds.
The oyster sector of the industry had $1.1 million in sales in 2022 through about 13 farms.
The industry peaked in 2018-2019, but declined in 2020 and 2021. The best year approached $2 million.
The industry is represented throughout the Southeast region, as well as in northern coastal communities. In Southeast, seaweed farm sites, shellfish farm sites, and shellfish/seaweed farm sites are located from south of Ketchikan to north of Juneau, with clusters on Prince of Wales Island.
While mariculture has been discussed in Alaska for a few decades, it was former Gov. Bill Walker who started the Governor’s Mariculture Task Force and Gov. Mike Dunleavy who continued it. Former Gov. Frank Murkowski supported mariculture during his term.
The effort has led to a $49 million federal grant, which is totals $65 million when the match is added in.
The grant will be used to fund seven projects addressing mariculture financing, governance, workforce development, research and development, market development, green energy, and equipment and technology.
The industry, of course, will be open to all Alaskans, but a specific focus will be creating or building the industry in Native and Indigenous coastal communities, especially rural villages, towns and cities.
Alaska is being presented with several economic opportunities because of federal funding of late.
Mariculture is one industry made to order for Alaska. It has the attention of the University of Alaska system, the state Department of Fish and Game, lending institutions, and state government, and Southeast Conference, to name a few.
That support, along with recent grant funds and the dogged determination of existing mariculture businesses is one of the thriving industries in Alaska's future.