All things "fish" are good for Alaska.
The state Legislature has a bill before it that would enhance shellfish mariculture in the 49th state.
The intent is to increase shellfish stocks, allow for nonprofit organizations to conduct shellfish enhancement projects, and allow the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute to market aquatic farm products. It also addresses salmon hatchery permits and shellfish enhancement project permits.
Currently, shellfish projects are permitted under a research permit of limited size and scope. But technology makes it possible to produce large numbers of shellfish.
The state already has supported shellfish mariculture though capital grants and investment in infrastructure.
Senate Bill 42’s sponsor is Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, who uses the potential for king crab as an example of the economic potential as a result of the bill's passage. Eight of 11 of Alaska's king crab stocks have been closed. But, with enhancement projects, they might be reestablished.
Hard-shell clams are another example of a fishery that has declined and would benefit from the bill.
Still other shellfish and mariculture efforts could benefit from the bill, as well, returning fisheries in rural Alaska, increasing food security and lifting the economy in local communities and statewide.
If the bill becomes law, it would increase the probability of grants and funding from the federal government. These funding sources want proof that Alaska supports mariculture and shellfish enhancement on a large scale, Stevens says.
Also, should the bill become law, it creates the necessary regulatory framework for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to manage the enhancement projects and establishes the criteria for permit issuance.
Additionally, it would set safety standards for sustainability and protect natural stocks. Plus, the Fish and Game commissioner would have to conclude that each project is a public benefit.
"SB 64 plays an important role in the development of mariculture in Alaska by providing a method to increase the available harvest of shellfish for public use in an environmentally safe manner," Stevens says. "Ultimately, (it should) improve Alaska's overall fisheries portfolio."
The state is seeking new or renewed economic development in order to increase industry and jobs for Alaskans. Building or rebuilding the mariculture and shellfish industry has great potential.