A strong potential for mariculture

My turn

Posted: Monday, January 22, 2001

It is important when reading Commissioner Rue's letter (Juneau Empire, Jan. 14), to consider the history of aquatic farming in Alaska. Prior to the enactment of the Mariculture Act of 1988, people were considering farming clams, and with the encouragement of ADF&G, even put together an application to farm geoducks. It seems strange to me that the people that framed the Aquatic Farm Act would have left out "on bottom" farming when this bit of history is taken into consideration and the fact that most aquatic farming all over the world is "on bottom." Indeed, a careful reading of the 1988 aquatic farm act shows that it does address clam farming in the section that speaks to securing a stock acquisition permit.

Commissioner Rue waved the constitutional flag and talked about common property sections, leaving out the section in the Constitution that speaks to the orderly development of aquaculture in the state. ADF&G has permitted clam farms in the state since 1992 that utilized wild stock as the basis of their farming operations. The state of Alaska also sponsored a conference in 1996 that encouraged clam farming on state beaches. At this conference Assistant AG Steve White gave a presentation that found the constitutionality of on-bottom aquaculture valid and in conformity with state law.

The insinuation that the individuals who applied for geoduck farms in the Ketchikan area were not serious about farming, but are more interested in acquiring $5 million worth of geoducks, is insulting to these individuals. These people applied for these farm sites in good faith; and, to the best of their abilities followed all the regulations and statutes in effect at that time. The commissioner also needs to brush up on his math skills when making accusations of this type. The state's own survey of the farms showed there was 800,000 pounds of geoduck biomass. This means that animals of harvest size make up only perhaps 200,000 pounds of the total. The price received for geoducks this year by the harvester was $1.15 per pound. Simple math shows that this is a lot less than $5 million. These farms will not displace any commercial harvesters of wild product. The proposed farm sites are in areas that are not being harvested and are not certified to be harvested.

It would much better serve the state's best interests if the commissioner and his staff would sit down with the aquatic farmers and engage in serious conversations about how to improve the industry. We have the greatest potential for mariculture of any state and yet we are the least developed. Even Arizona out-produces us. It is apparent that a thriving mariculture industry could be a significant economic force for our coastal villages. Commissioner Rue, enough rhetoric - let's look after our state's best interests.

Robert Hartley is past-president of the Alaska Shellfish Growers Association.

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