Hawaii & Alaska
A tendering vessel brings kelp back to Kodiak for processing. Kelp farming is taking off in Kodiak and making waves on the Kenai Peninsula, too, where there are several permitted kelp farmers on Kachemak Bay. (Courtesy of Chris Sannito)

AK - With new research, Alaska groups aim to turn mariculture into $100 million industry

Alaska has an ambitious goal: to turn its growing mariculture business into a $100 million industry by 2040.

It has a long way to go. But federal and state agencies are taking steps toward making products like seaweed and shellfish easier to grow and market.

Marine research organization Alaska Sea Grant will spend the next two years investigating how to better preserve kelp to make commercial ready-to-eat products, using a $50,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Sea Grant is looking into a technology called high-pressure processing. It uses pressurized water to knock out pathogens, like E. coli, and preserve food for longer,

“It’s really a growing way of food preservation that’s starting to catch on,” said Chris Sannito, seafood technology specialist with Sea Grant. “More and more products in the supermarket are processed this way.”

Currently, seaweed is cleaned through steam blanching — the same method you might use to preserve your vegetables.

High-pressure processing, on the other hand, can triple a product’s shelf life and is used to preserve all sorts of food products, from grocery store guacamole to juices.

“The bacteria are kind of squeezed down and, at a certain pressure, they cannot survive that,” Sannito said.

But it’s expensive. That’s where the USDA money comes in.

Sea Grant will send seafood products to a research facility that already has high-pressure processing equipment in Erlanger, Ky. There, researchers can conduct kitchen tests and shelf-life studies on seaweed products to make sure the technology works.

The study is part of a concerted push to bolster the mariculture business in Alaska.

Mariculture is the farming and enhancement of seaweed and shellfish. Right now, that industry is largely kelp and oysters, including 13 shellfish farms in Kachemak Bay. NOAA valued Alaska’s mariculture industry at $1.4 million in 2019.

Sannito is based in Kodiak, where he said there’s a lot of interest in kelp.

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