The issue of aquatic farming as recently presented by Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner, Frank Rue, deserves some reasonable clarification.
Aquatic farmers statewide were offended by Mr. Rue's insinuating statement that farmers for clams were proposing to operate fisheries under the guise of aquatic farms, simply to harvest wild stocks. The members of our company, Alaska Trademark Shellfish, have made a huge personal investment, both in terms of time and money, by developing a comprehensive plan for clam culture in Southeast Alaska. We have studied husbandry techniques in Canada and Washington state, visited hatcheries and active farms in both places in our pursuit to bring this exciting opportunity to Alaska.
Our company secured a five-year Alaska Science and Technology Foundation Grant in a sincere effort to develop geoduck aquaculture in Southeast Alaska, and provided for a long term supply of brood stock to the state's new shellfish hatchery. The goal of the grant was to develop a commercial supply of geoduck seed stock and a husbandry manual that could be used by all Alaskans. Despite the fact our grant has been suspended for over a year, due to ADF&G's refusal to issue our operational permits, we continue to supply brood stock to the hatchery pro bono. When Mr. Rue implies that we and others have no intention of farming, we are truly offended.
At the state's new shellfish hatchery in Seward, staff are preparing to dump millions of valuable clam seed, due to ADF&G's refusal to issue aquatic farm operational permits.
Mr. Rue states that the Aquatic Farm Act did not contemplate "on bottom" clam farming. This statement is simply not true. Clam farming was and is a major part of the Aquatic Farm Act. I would suggest that Mr. Rue go back and get a historical perspective from former ADF&G staff and others who developed the law. The truth is clam farming has been going on in Alaska for years, as it does today. Many of us have enjoyed native little neck clams at several of our local restaurants provided by Alaskan clam farms for many years.
Mr. Rue claims that several geoduck farmers who have filed suit against the state have over $5 million worth of natural stock on their sites. Again the state is contradicting its own information. When ADF&G did their site evaluations of all the geoduck sites they came up with an estimated total bio-mass of 800,000 pounds. The ex-vessel price in Alaska for geoducks during the 2000-01 season was $1.10 per lb. There is a 20-million-pounds bio-mass of geoduck clams allocated to the current capture fishery, yet Alaskans receive very little benefit from this fishery.
Its been more than 12 years since the Aquatic Farm Act was passed, and now ADF&G has convinced the Department of Law to challenge our own state law constitutionally. We believe the attorney general's job is to enforce and uphold the law despite the personal feelings of a few bureaucrats in one state agency.
What's really going on here is that the Alaska Department of Fish & Game is scrambling to pass regulations that will effectively put an end to shellfish farming in the state. This is being done in retaliation to lawsuits being brought against ADF&G's by aquatic farmers, and a legislative audit that was conducted on ADF&G over their recent handling of aquatic farm applications. As one state mariculture expert recently said, "The proposed regulations essentially put a ban on shellfish farming in the state."
I agree with Commissioner Rue when he urges all Alaskans who have an interest in these issues to look past the rhetoric, and I agree we should all assist the "industry" in continuing to develop the aquatic farming industry in a manner consistent with state law and good public policy.
For anyone looking for a fair and balanced perspective of the aquatic farming issue in Alaska, get the "Mariculture Audit" that will be released for public review today. E-mail your request for a copy of the "Mariculture Audit" to the state Division of Legislative Audit at: email@example.com.
Scott D. Thomas of Ketchikan is the founder and managing member of Alaska Trademark Shellfish, LLC.