FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) While much of Alaska's revenue is generated by oil and tourism, another industry is continuing to grow and contribute to the state's economy. Marine aquaculture, also referred to as mariculture or aqua farming, is the enhancement, restoration and farming of shellfish and seaweed for sustainable seafood.
The Alaska Mariculture Task Force was established in 2016 with a goal of developing a $100 million mariculture industry in 20 years.
Aqua farming has boosted Alaska's "Blue Economy", featuring seafood production, tourism, ocean exploration and marine transportation.
"From an economic standpoint, aquaculture provides year-round jobs, supports resilient work in water fronts and coastal communities and provides important economic diversification opportunities," Aquaculture Coordinator with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Alaska Region, Alicia Bishop said.
Beyond the economic benefits, mariculture can have a positive environmental impact as well.
"Both seaweed and shellfish farming provide environmental benefits through improving water quality and providing habitat," added Bishop. "Kelp does an amazing job of taking up carbon dioxide that may help offset effects of ocean acidification, and shellfish are nature's own filtration system. Both of these species are grown safely and sustainably."
In January, NOAA Fisheries and the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission hosted the first Alaska Mariculture Workshop in Ketchikan, featuring aquatic farmers, tribal representatives, policy makers, researchers and more.
Alaska currently has 71 active mariculture operations, including the largest kelp farm in the United States.
"With more coastline than all of the lower 48 states combined, Alaska is uniquely suited to sieze the marine aquaculture opportunity," said Bishop. "Marine aquaculture in Alaska is still a pretty nascent field, but that gives us a lot of opportunity to learn from other regions and parts of the world and craft a program that is right for Alaska, our people and our natural resources."
Aqua farming production sales in Alaska totaled $1.4 million dollars last year, according to NOAA. More information about Alaska's aquaculture can be found at fisheries.noaa.gov.
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