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ANCHORAGE - Dozens of undeveloped sites along Alaska's southcentral and southeast coast are available for lease from the state to private entrepreneurs for aquatic farms.
The 158 sites are on a new list of coves, bights and beaches that could be used for raising such salable species as oysters and littleneck clams.
The state Legislature ordered a list of at least 90 sites drawn up two years ago after critics contended the state's existing mariculture program wasn't moving fast enough.
Among the new locations are several beaches in Prince William Sound where the public would no longer be allowed to harvest clams. State officials say the locations were carefully chosen to avoid conflicts.
The state was guided by a 2001 court decision that called it unconstitutional to allow aquatic farming in areas receiving heavy "common use" by the public, said Jackie Timothy, a mariculture program specialist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
An appeal of that decision, brought by aquaculture interests hoping for a more generous interpretation of the state constitution, is now pending before the Alaska Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, the state started taking sealed bids for use of the new sites earlier this month and will continue until Jan. 16. Unclaimed sites can be leased over the counter after the auction.
The new system supersedes the existing program, in which individuals nominate sites and then wait eight months for a review to see whether the site is acceptable. Most of the interest has been in growing oysters and mussels from hanging nets and baskets.
Excluded from the new list is Kachemak Bay, already a center of mariculture industry in Southcentral. Clam beaches there are off-limits because the area has been designated a state critical habitat. An offshore site nominated in Bear Cove was rejected because it was near a seal haul-out, and another in Seldovia Bay was rejected because of conflicts with setnetters, according to the state.
Aesthetic concerns were not a factor, state officials said.
"Just because somebody doesn't want to see a sea of buoys isn't a legitimate concern," John Thiede, with the state Department of Natural Resources, told the Anchorage Daily News.
Other areas were eliminated from consideration or reduced in size because of conflicts over anchorages, commercial fishing or public access to shore, Thiede said.