A local entrepreneur who wants to test the feasibility of kelp farming on Kodiak has submitted an application published Aug. 4 by the Alaska Department of Natural Resources.
Erik O’Brien, doing business as Efficient Coastal Resources, requested approval to test a sugar kelp longline system on up to one acre of tidelands, about a mile from the community of Larsen Bay, where he happens to live.
“It may be that Larsen Bay is an extremely productive location for kelp, and out of the way enough that it shouldn't directly compete with other user groups,” O’Brien wrote in an email.
He got interested in mariculture through work with the Southwest Alaska Municipal Conference.
“I got excited for the simplicity and potential to grow kelp in Southwest Alaska,” he wrote. “Participating in the Alaska Shellfish Growers Association annual meeting last November, I learned enough to determine we needed to keep this thing moving forward.”
If the project leads to a business, it would score some exciting firsts for Alaska aquaculture, said Christy Colles, a DNR natural resources director based in Anchorage.
“There’s none in Kodiak,” she said, noting the prevalence of paralytic shellfish poisoning stands in the way of oyster farming.
O’Brien’s would also be the state’s first aquacultureoperation devoted exclusively to kelp farming.
Colles said kelp farming has expanded recently on the East Coast, fueled by broadening menus and interest in healthy foods, with growing markets in the U.S. and Asia.
The pristine seawater around Alaska has sparked some interest in bringing the business here. So far, however, commercial kelp cultivation is limited to an adjunct activity at some geoduck and oyster farms.
“We don’t have anyone large right now when it comes to seaweed or kelp,” Colles said.
“It could be a really big industry for Alaska to have.”
She said Alaska currently has between 55 and 60 aquaculture farms, mostly in Southeast.
“Oysters are actually what everyone is doing now,” she said.
Besides approval from DNR and public input, aquaculture operations must have approval from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and have to be limited to native species.
In a project description submitted with the application, O’Brien projects an annual harvest of 34,560 pounds.
“The sugar kelp longline system is composed of anchors and a mooring buoy on each end, and a subsurface rope which hangs 7 feet from the ocean surface,” according to the description. “The kelp spores are placed on a string which is wrapped around the subsurface longline rope and are maintained at a constant depth from the surface using a depth control dropper.”
A harvester in a skiff would cut the mature kelp from the line in late spring.
“If the product grows, and we can determine there is a market, we need to back fill the business plan to see if this is something that should be considered as a viable business/industry. There are really more questions than answers,” O’Brien wrote.
“If it does work, I'd attribute much of that to local knowledge of the ocean and marine environment that coastal people and fishermen rely on. And mostly luck that the pieces fall into place.”
Comments on the test plot application can be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org by 5 p.m. today.