Bill adds flexibility to funding mariculture projects

State loans to help pay for shellfish and seaweed hatcheries or enhancement projects through the Alaska Mariculture Revolving Loan Fund are getting a boost in flexibility through legislation signed into law on Aug. 27 by Gov. Bill Walker.

House Bill 76, sponsored by Rep. Dan Ortiz, I-Ketchikan, is an effort to help participants in the state’s growing mariculture industry to get access to capital.

The Alaska Mariculture Revolving Loan Fund was created in 2012 with a $5 million investment to provide loans for development of Alaskan-owned mariculture operations, with a goal of diversifying economies of many coastal communities.

To date the fund has made seven loans totaling $598,000 with no delinquencies or defaults. Changes in how the fund will work aim to better accommodate the time-consuming nature of the mariculture industry and the lag time from seed to product that can be sold.

HB76 includes provisions allowing loan repayments to be deferred for up to six years for most loans and up to 11 years for the new hatchery loans authorized by the bill.

The Alaska House of Representatives voted 26-14 last year to approve the bill, and in May the State Senate passed the bill unanimously by a vote of 19-0.

Walker signed the bill into law in a ceremony at the Hump Island Oyster Farm north of Ketchikan.