SEWARD - A group of shellfish growers in Southeast Alaska is establishing a geoduck farm.
Seward's Qutekcak Shellfish Hatchery last week shipped 30,000 geoduck seed to the shellfish farmers who hope to become the first of their kind in the state.
If the farms are successful, the seed, essentially young geoducks, will grow as large as 5 pounds. Sales of Washington farm-raised geoduck clams have brought as much as $125 for a 5-pound specimen.
Steve LaCroix of Ketchikan expects to receive permits in March allowing him to plant the seed on the ocean floor. Meanwhile, the seed is wintering over on a permitted shellfish farm on Prince of Wales Island, he said.
LaCroix, who already is an experienced geoduck farmer in Washington state, said it will take four to six years before the geoducks become market size.
Qutekcak's hatchery manager Jon Agosti said he's excited about the hatchery's first shipment of 4- to 5-month-old seed that vary in size from 3 to 5 millimeters.
But getting even this far was difficult.
The industry began in 1994 to strongly lobby the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to codify regulations of ocean floor, or on-bottom, aquaculture, Agosti said.
With no existing regulations for such shellfish growers, few permits were issued during that time.
After last year's extended regulatory hearings, most of the groundwork is now in place to permit such shellfish farming to proceed in Alaska, Agosti said.
"Nothing can stop it from pushing forward now," he said.
But even after its initial shipment of 30,000 seed, Qutekcak, the state's only shellfish hatchery, still has a half million more seed available to growers.
The hatchery is planning to over-winter some of the seed, which will put it into a dormant pattern that will be small, properly-sized seed for planting in the spring.