USDA grant will fund mariculture processing blueprint

Facility will support aquatic farming of Kelp, seaweed and shellfish

Baby bull kelp. Photo courtesy of the Native Conservancy

A $500,000 grant to the Southeast Conference from the U.S. Department of Agriculture is earmarked to create a blueprint for a mariculture processing facility on Prince of Wales Island.

The facility will support aquatic farming of kelp, seaweed and shellfish, with co-op members being able to handle, store, freeze, pack, process, label and load their harvest in a safe, cost-effective manner.

The grant, announced Jan. 13, is the result of USDA’s continued effort to work with residents of the region to identify investments that will support economic growth natural resources and community

“Southeast Alaska’s vast resources and hardworking people create opportunity for economic growth and diversification,” said USDA Under Secretary for Rural Development Xochitl Torres Small. “USDA is investing in this effort by engaging with local tribes, governments and community leaders to encourage economic growth that reflects the region’s rich diversity, cultural heritage and natural resources. Mariculture is a critical and growing income and job creator in Southeast Alaska.”

This grant is a first step in standing up a shared processing space that will save on costs and create new market opportunities, she said.

Under the Biden-Harris Administration, USDA Rural Development provides loans and grants to help expand economic opportunities, create jobs and improve the quality of life for millions of Americans in rural areas.

Commercial fishing is the core of the economy for six of a dozen communities on Prince of Wales Island, including Craig, Klawock, Hydaburg, Port Protection and Point Baker. Logging, tourism and mining also contribute to the economy. Summer fisheries attract harvesters for all five species of Pacific salmon. Longliners fish for halibut and black cod. Other fisheries include Dungeness crab, shrimp, geoducks, sea cucumbers and sea urchins. A Canadian firm, Ucore Rare Metals, based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, owns a rare earth minerals deposit there.

On July 15, USDA announced a new Southeast Alaska Sustainability Strategy, through which USDA consults with tribes and Alaska Native corporations in a collaborative process to invest some $25 million in financial and technical resources in sustainable options for economic growth, and to identify priorities for future investments. As part of that strategy, USDA, the agency would end large-scale old growth timber sales on the Tongass National Forest and focus instead on managing resources to support forest restoration, recreation and resilience, including for climate, wildlife habitat and watershed improvement.

The Southeast Conference was incorporated in 1958 to promote a regional transportation system which eventually became the Alaska Marine Highway System. Since then, the conferences more than 185 member organizations and individuals have worked together to boost the economic development and general well-being of the region.