Another side to shellfish farming debate

My turn

Posted: Tuesday, February 13, 2001

In recent letters, potential aquatic geoduck farmers have presented a misleading set of facts on the recent aquatic farming debate. The Southeast Alaska Regional Dive Fisheries Association (SARDFA) would like to expose the other side of the issue.

SARDFA has always supported legitimate aquatic farming. The farming of geoducks is not the issue. SARDFA believes some potential geoduck farmers are attempting a resource grab under the guise of the Aquatic Farm Act. Some of these farmers have applied for farm permits on sites loaded with wild geoduck, yet stated in their applications that "marginal" amounts or no geoducks were present. They want the state to turn over ownership of these geoducks to them. For one farmer, this resource grab amounts to over 600,000 pounds of geoducks, with a market value of $5-10 per pound, amounting to $3 million to $6 million.

It seems reasonable that aquatic farming of geoducks entails: 1) taking of adult geoducks for breeding geoduck seedlings; 2) planting and care of young geoducks; 3) harvest of cultured stocks. SARDFA does not believe aquatic farming entails harvesting wild geoducks for sale.

SARDFA maintains that the Aquatic Farm Act is not a vehicle to transfer extensive common property resources to private ownership. SARDFA does not believe the Legislature intended for the Aquatic Farm Act to permit this. It would also be unconstitutional under the "no exclusive fisheries" clause of the Alaska Constitution. The Alaska Department of Fish & Game, Department of Law, Division of Legislative Audit, and the United Fishermen of Alaska all agree with this interpretation. In fact, the Division of Legislative Audit recently stated in their audit report, "the farmers' harvest and sale of creatures can be viewed as more closely resembling mineral extraction" than aquatic farming.

Imagine the potential for all Alaska fisheries if people could stake claims to species, such as crab, shrimp and sea cucumbers, to mention a few, then harvest and sell 100 percent of those species in order to make room for reseeding. How would this change the face of commercial fishing in Alaska? Alaskans need to look at the big picture: How much will this type of farming affect the entire commercial fishing industry in Alaska in the near future? How will it affect our resource management system, which happens to be the best in the world?

The real issue is whether wild stocks of geoducks should be available to commercial subsistence and sport users or be turned over to private ownership under the guise of aquatic farming. The attacks on ADF&G are an attempt to confuse the issue and rob the people of Alaska who rely on these ocean resources.

Julie Decker is the executive director of SARDFA.

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