Alaska Seaweed Aquaculture Research

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A new $418,000 grant from National Sea Grant will fund a two-year study by University of Alaska Southeast professor Michael Stekoll. The research focuses on cultivating seaweed at higher latitudes, including when seaweed plants become fertile, timing of transferring plants to the ocean, best harvest times, and selecting for specific traits, with the goal of helping growers become successful. Alaska Sea Grant is administering the grant.

Seaweed aquaculture is a rapidly increasing industry with an estimated value of $6.6 billion worldwide. Commercial farmers have grown oysters, clams, and mussels in Alaska for years. Now seaweed has the potential to play a role in the future of the state’s aquaculture industry.

Several commercial seaweed farms have recently been permitted in Alaska, and shellfish farmers have expressed a strong interest in adding seaweed cultivation to their operations.

While several Alaska seaweed species have commercial potential, the new project will focus on sugar kelp. Sugar kelp may have the best chance of becoming commercially viable because it is fast-growing, grows best in the winter, and has a pleasing taste, according to a commercial distributor.

Stekoll’s project will study growing conditions and methods, which could allow producers to grow and harvest commercial quantities of seaweed.

The State of Alaska prohibits import of any seaweeds to protect existing natural populations, so seaweed farmed or grown for research in Alaska must come from local stock.

Blue Evolution, a US seaweed-farming company, will provide $125,000 for a College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences graduate student to work with Stekoll, who has a joint appointment with UAF CFOS.

The partnership will allow for direct transfer of Stekoll’s research into the commercial sector. Blue Evolution is also working directly with shellfish farmers in Alaska in hopes of kick-starting this new industry.

source: Alaska Sea Grant