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November 19, 2004

Conference seeks to kick-start shellfish farming

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Raising oysters, clams, a way to diversify coastal economy

Anchorage, Alaska—All the information you've ever needed to start a shellfish farm, but were afraid to come out of your shell and ask.

The Alaska Shellfish Aquaculture Conference will take place December 3-4, 2004, at the Anchorage Hilton Hotel.

Organizers said the conference is aimed at helping people start shellfish farms.

"It's going to be a real nuts and bolts conference about starting and operating a shellfish farm right here in Alaska," said Ray Ralonde, aquaculture specialist with the University of Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program in Anchorage. "It's geared toward giving people fundamental information about business planning, marketing, and financing needed to start their own shellfish farm."

The conference is sponsored by the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development, as well by the Departments of Fish and Game and Natural Resources. The Alaska Shellfish Growers Association and the University of Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program are also sponsors.

Alaska's 61 shellfish farms are based primarily in Southeast and Southcentral Alaska. In 2003, they collectively produced more than one million oysters, as well as 61,000 pounds of clams and 1,700 pounds of mussels worth a total of $625,000. While impressive, RaLonde said Alaska's production doesn't even begin to meet the in-state needs of restaurants and grocery stores.

"Every oyster, clam, and mussel grown in the state is sold even before it is harvested," said RaLonde. "Existing farms cannot meet the growing demand unless there's a substantial increase in production."

State officials see shellfish aquaculture as a way to diversify the state's coastal communities, some of which have been hit hard by low salmon prices and the loss of logging and other jobs.

"Shellfish farming is a potential growth sector of the state's seafood industry," said Glenn Haight, fisheries development specialist with the state Department of Commerce. "There's a long road ahead for shellfish aquaculture to match, for example, the more than $200 million value of the state's commercial wild salmon fisheries. We see this conference as a way to kick-start interest in aquaculture."

Among the many policy issues state regulators face is how to manage the growth of the industry. Should incentives and regulations favor small "mom-and-pop" operations, or should large commercial ventures be encouraged? Haight hopes conference participants will offer some guidance.

"What we hear from people regarding their vision for the industry, and how it will mesh with small coastal Alaska communities, will help us set policy," said Haight.

The conference also will feature opportunities for business in the raising of aquatic plants and other alternative crops. Experts at the conference will even discuss ways to use aquaculture to rebuild wild species such as red king crab.

Contact: Ray RaLonde, Aquaculture Specialist, Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program, University of Alaska Fairbanks, School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, 907-274-9691 ext. 3., or Glenn Haight, Fisheries Development Specialist, Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development, 907-465-5464.

The Alaska Sea Grant College Program is a marine research, education and outreach service headquartered at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences. Sea Grant is funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in partnership with the State of Alaska and private industry.

Contact

Ray RaLonde, Aquaculture Specialist, Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program, University of Alaska Fairbanks, School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, 907-274-9691 ext. 3.

Glenn Haight, Fisheries Development Specialist, Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development, 907-465-5464.

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