KETCHIKAN - Shellfish farmers have until Jan. 16 to submit bids to lease any of 158 farm sites available through the state Department of Natural Resources.
Available are leases for three types of shellfish farms - suspended culture sites for oysters, intertidal sites for clams and subtidal sites for geoducks.
The program is part of a state effort to jump-start the shellfish farming industry, which was first authorized by the Legislature in 1988 but in recent years has seen diminished development.
There are 62 shellfish farms now in the state, including 27 in Southeast Alaska.
The "mariculture" industry has the potential to increase the availability of fresh seafood to Alaskans, boost competitiveness in the world marketplace and provide a premium product year-round, said state Rep. Drew Scalzi, a Homer Republican, after the 2002 bill for the aquatic farm disposal program was approved by the House.
Ray RaLonde, an aquaculture specialist with University of Alaska Fairbanks marine advisory program, and others worked with communities such as Ketchikan and Naukati to identify potential shellfish farm sites. And a series of public meetings was held over the summer.
The department announced the sites it would offer for lease this fall, and bidding began Monday.
"There haven't been a lot of inquiries thus far," said John Thiede, the program manager.
He said people considering bidding for a lease should visit the prospective farm area.
"We certainly hope that anybody that wants to get involved will go out there and check it out," Thiede said.
Of the 158 aquatic farm sites available, 130 are in designated areas. For example, the designated area in Traitors Cove, north of Ketchikan, contains about 200 surface acres of water and does not include Marguerite Bay.
The state is offering leases for four suspended culture sites of up to 10 acres each within that designated area. It's up to the leaseholder to establish the farm within the designated area, said Thiede.
There still may be areas within the site that they have to avoid, he said, although the selection process helped minimize potential conflicts.
Another 28 sites are pre-authorized, meaning they were approved before last year's legislation passed, but have been relinquished or closed for some reason.
These sites already have specific farm boundaries.
The lease auction is by sealed bids, which will be opened Jan. 22.
Thiede said the minimum bid is $200, which is not applicable to the annual lease fee of $350 for the first acre and $100 for each additional acre or fraction.
Leases that don't receive successful bids will be available from the department, beginning Jan. 29.
For more, go to www.dnr.state.ak.us/mlw/aquatic/index.htm