Mariculture conference advances efforts to grow industry

“The sun is rising over the emerging mariculture industry in Alaska” was a theme that resonated throughout the recent three-day conference on mariculture in Juneau. Participants included policymakers, industry representatives from around the world and Alaska, tribal leaders, regulators, researchers and training experts, nonprofit organizations, shellfish and seaweed farmers, students, and others. 

The conference, sponsored by the University of Alaska and hosted by the Juneau Economic Development Council, centered around themes of industry, policy and research with opening remarks provided by University of Alaska president Pat Pitney. Pitney greeted attendees recognizing that “We’re at a turning point to expanding this industry” and stating “The University of Alaska is all in for mariculture.” 

people sitting in a conference room viewing a speaker on a large screen projected on the wall
Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy addresses the UA Mariculture Conference attendees. Photo courtesy of CFOS UAF.

Pitney was joined by Tlingit and Haida president Richard Chalyee Eésh Peterson, Juneau assembly member Christine Woll, and governor Mike Dunleavy, who provided welcoming comments and words of encouragement on the opportunities that mariculture can provide in Alaska.

“We want to make Alaska the mariculture capital of the world,” said Governor Dunleavy.

Five facilitated sessions included presentations from guest speakers followed by panel discussions for in-depth dives into the session topics and applications in Alaska. Experts from around the world shared their experiences in growing, processing, and marketing shellfish and seaweed. One such expert, Kate Burns, founder of Islander Kelp, emphasized the environmental sustainability and community-building aspects of growing kelp and making kelp products. Her company provides jobs on Rathlin Island, a small island north of Ireland with a population of 150. 

Speakers from Alaska described policies, funding opportunities, needs, research and training accomplishments and highlights of future education and workforce development opportunities. Alaska Native leaders emphasized the opportunities and need to consider food security, food sovereignty, subsistence rights,  and the incorporation of traditional knowledge and values into business practices. 

Alaska Sea Grant’s director, Ginny Eckert, helped plan the event and gave a keynote address on research and training to support the mariculture industry. Alaska Sea Grant’s mariculture specialist, Melissa Good, presented on workforce development.

woman standing at a podium with a large slide screen projected behind her
Ginny Eckert speaks at the UA Mariculture Conference in Juneau. Photo courtesy of CFOS UAF.

Eckert’s keynote session focused on research and training accomplishments since the last mariculture workshop in January 2020, hosted by NOAA Fisheries. Since that time, Alaska has increased capacity, addressed bottlenecks and accomplished many of the priority action items of the Governor’s Mariculture Task Force. Alaska Sea Grant hosts the newly-created Mariculture Research and Training Center to facilitate communication among seaweed and shellfish farmers, researchers and trainers and to support research and training to address industry needs. It will also communicate research results to those who can benefit from them, including Alaska Native organizations, businesses, regulators, and other stakeholders.  

“It was wonderful to have such a broad mix of stakeholders come together to share expertise about how Alaska can make the most of our mariculture potential,” said Eckert. “This gathering created positive energy and momentum, and started the conversation among diverse stakeholders.”

“Mariculture is a sustainable industry that makes a lot of sense for Alaska. It can provide economic development opportunities in our rural coastal communities. Alaska Sea Grant is pleased to contribute expertise in marine outreach, education and applied research to further its growth.”