On September 2, the White House announced $49 million dollars in funding for further development of Alaska’s mariculture industry — that’s mostly shellfish and seaweed. The Alaska Mariculture Cluster, led by Southeast Conference, was one of 21 winners in the nationwide “Build Back Better Regional Challenge” program.
$2.3 million of that money is going to the University of Alaska Southeast.
“Aquaculture and mariculture have been a part of our program for over a decade now,” said Joel Markis, who directs the applied fisheries program in Sitka. “But the mariculture side of things has really started to grow as the industry has started to receive more attention and more interest over the past years.”
Markis said the money will support their growing mariculture workforce development program by helping them hire a faculty member, a marketing and recruitment specialist and a technician. It will also fund a commercial kitchen and the development of a climate controlled growth chamber for spawning algae and kelp.
“Now that we’ve collected or harvested these organisms out of the ocean, what are we going to do with them? The hope is that, with the addition of a commercial kitchen space that’s FDA certified, we can actually prepare some of these things for food,” Markis said. “[And] give students a glimpse at that side of things of what does it take to actually…turn these different products into food. And then — are there ways that we can potentially add value to them through that culinary side of things?”
Markis hopes this investment in their program will help them bring the mariculture industry to a wider audience and help it grow.
“I think there’s a huge amount of potential out there. We’ve got tens of thousands of miles of coastline in Southeast Alaska alone, and the capacity to grow a lot of food in our waters,” Markis says. “If we can aid in doing that in a responsible manner, in a sustainable manner, and help support the industry by teaching people about the different aspects of mariculture, and of growing food in the ocean, I think it’s something that we’re all really excited about.”
The Alaska Mariculture Cluster was one of 529 applicants to the federal funding program. They have five years to spend the funding on eight different projects to develop and expand the industry throughout the state.