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Former lawyer starts largest kelp farm in North America

Two years ago, Markos Scheer was sitting pretty. He had a comfortable job working as an attorney at the Williams, Kastner & Gibbs law firm, representing seafood companies and fishermen that operated from California to the Bering Sea. His family was living quite happily in Seattle, Washington, U.S.A.

Then he started learning about the potential of mariculture in Alaska.

Now, Scheer is the CEO of Premium Aquatics, which just received a lease from the state of Alaska on 1 April to open a 127-acre kelp and shellfish farm in Doyle Bay, off Prince of Wales Island, near Craig, Alaska.

“I believe that this is a transformational moment and advancement of the Alaska mariculture industry, which has a great future for sustainable, renewable, and non-extraction based economic development for coastal Alaska and Alaskans,” he said.

In an interview with SeafoodSource, Scheer said that after getting increasingly interested in mariculture as a board member of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, which helped to launch the Alaska Mariculture Initiative in 2013, he felt a calling to get more personally involved in the industry.

"I moved to Prince of Wales Island in 1982 with my mother, who was working in reforestation. From 1985 to 1997, I worked for a seafood company in Alaska, and for 20 years, I represented seafood companies [with interests in Alaska],” he said. “All of this fits together. Those interests brought me into the creation of the Alaska Mariculture Initiative, and that’s what opened the pathway to starting [Premium Aquatics].”

In a 2014 concept paper, the Alaska Mariculture Initiative concluded the mariculture sector in Alaska could become a USD 1 billion (EUR 892.9 million) industry within the next 30 years. Scheer said by delving deep into the data contained in the report, he saw “incredible potential” waiting to be unlocked.

“The elements are all there for success,” Scheer said. “Coastal Alaska is a perfect place for mariculture. Existing infrastructure – primarily processing plants for salmon – are under-capacity. There are 8,000 fishing vessels registered in Alaska that are only used for a short period in the summer for the salmon runs. And people in Alaska know how to work on boats and use fishing gear.”

Seaweed and bivalve aquaculture – the proposed usage for Premium Aquatics’ farm – is also one of the most sustainable types of seafood production, Scheer said.

“It has such a good message of blending economic development and stewardship. I saw mariculture had this incredible ability to help build an industry that is sustainable and renewable and helps the people and economic development of coastal Alaska,” he said. “I spent a number of years studying it, and I saw there was just this need for someone to go out and do it. Eventually, I started thinking that maybe that guy ought to be me.”

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