Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, introduces Senate Bill 22 to the Senate Resources Committee at the Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019. The bill would allow organizations to obtain permits and enhance the habitat of shellfish in hopes of improving the seafood industry. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, introduces Senate Bill 22 to the Senate Resources Committee at the Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019. The bill would allow organizations to obtain permits and enhance the habitat of shellfish in hopes of improving the seafood industry. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Shellfish rehabilitation bill carries economic potential

Senate Bill 22 aims to revamp shellfish habitat

A shellfish habitat enhancement bill could improve the stocks of sea life such as crabs and clams in Alaska’s coastal waters. Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, introduced Senate Bill 22 to the Senate Resource Committee on Wednesday.

In short, the bill would allow for organizations to get permits to rehabilitate shellfish habitats.

“Large-scale enhancement projects, especially for king crabs, have significant possibility for economic development,” Stevens wrote in his sponsor statement. “Eight of 11 king crab stocks in Alaska have been closed for many years. If successful, these enhancement projects could help reestablish localized populations, which could in turn provide breeding populations to help reestablish larger areas.”

Tim Lamkin, one of Stevens’ staffers, explained the bill to the committee.

“At one time these crabs were the dominant biomass in our oceans,” Lamkin said. “These crabs and clams, when they’re small they’re eaten up. This bill will provide some legal framework for hatcheries to grow these babies, protect them and nurture them. (It would) have a net positive affect on our economy.”

He said these shellfish would supply the private sector, not compete with it. He explained how shellfish stocks have been on the decline for decades and the state Department of Fish and Game’s only tool was to restrict the seafood industry’s harvests. This bill could provide a new tool for Fish and Game to maintain and improve the stock of ocean life.

A similar bill was introduced last year by Rep. Dan Ortiz of Ketchikan, who is the only non-affiliated member of the House.

“Great credit should go to Ortiz, we’re just trying to help out on the Senate side,” Stevens said in his office, before the committee hearing began. Stevens is hoping to get the bill through the Senate earlier in the session so it will be ready for the House to address. The House has yet to hold committee hearings on bills because it does not have any committees set up.

Reps talking, but House still unsettled

Lamkin told the Senate committee the bill had widespread support during the last session.

“It didn’t quite make it and washed up on the beach,” he said.

Some senators expressed concern about these farm raised stocks of shellfish being in the ocean.

“I know there’s some concern over the integrity of wild stock.” Sen. John Coghill said. The North Pole Republican said he did not expect an answer at the moment.

There was also a presentation from the Alaska Mariculture Task Force, which was created by former Gov. Bill Walker by way of administrative order. In Alaska, legal mariculture refers to shellfish and seaweed. The task force’s studies projected that the industry could grow into a $100 million industry within 20 years if the industry is allowed to grow.

Alutiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery, for example, is an organization that has farmed many different shellfish including blue king crabs and butter clams in salt water tanks. Much of Alutiq Pride’s work is research based and it has not yet released king crabs into the ocean. This crab release may happen soon. But the hatchery has successfully enhanced clam habitat. By planting clams on beaches in their natural habitat and protective netting, the hatchery ensures clams grow to adult size.

If this bill passes, Alaska could see more businesses like this working to improve shellfish stocks.

Julie Decker, who is executive director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation and has a seat on the task force, said the current mariculture industry produces about $1.5 million a year. Most shellfish growing operations are only permitted to do research at the moment.

Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau, asked how that trajectory of economic output looked.

Using her hand to show the rise of the industry during the next 20 years, Decker said, “I see the trajectory being slow at first and then taking off.”


• Contact reporter Kevin Baird at 523-2258 or kbaird@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @alaska_kev.


More in News

In this July 13, 2007, file photo, workers with the Pebble Mine project test drill in the Bristol Bay region of Alaska, near the village of Iliamma. (AP Photo / Al Grillo)
Pebble developer files appeal with Army Corps

The Army Corps of Engineers rejected Pebble Limited Partnership’s application in November.

This August 2019 photos shows a redline at Treadwell Arena designed by Tsimshian artist Abel Ryan. The arena is adding new weekly events to its schedule, City and Borough of Juneau announced. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Treadwell Arena adds new weekly events

Hockey and open skate are on the schedule.

This 2020 electron microscope image provided by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases - Rocky Mountain Laboratories shows SARS-CoV-2 virus particles which causes COVID-19, isolated from a patient in the U.S., emerging from the surface of cells cultured in a lab. On Monday, Oct. 5, 2020, the top U.S. public health agency said that coronavirus can spread greater distances through the air than 6 feet, particularly in poorly ventilated and enclosed spaces. But agency officials continued to say such spread is uncommon, and current social distancing guidelines still make sense. (NIAID-RML via AP)
COVID at a glance for Friday, Jan. 22

The most recent state and local numbers.

A Coast Guard Station Juneau 45-foot Response Boat-Medium patrols Auke Bay during an exercise in 2018. A response boat similar to the one in the photo was struck by a laser near Ketchikan on Saturday, Jan. 17, prompting an investigation into the crime. (Lt. Brian Dykens / U.S. Coast Guard)
Coast Guard wants information after laser pointed at boat

“Laser strikes jeopardize the safety of our boat crews…”

This 2020 electron microscope image provided by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases - Rocky Mountain Laboratories shows SARS-CoV-2 virus particles which causes COVID-19, isolated from a patient in the U.S., emerging from the surface of cells cultured in a lab. On Monday, Oct. 5, 2020, the top U.S. public health agency said that coronavirus can spread greater distances through the air than 6 feet, particularly in poorly ventilated and enclosed spaces. But agency officials continued to say such spread is uncommon, and current social distancing guidelines still make sense. (NIAID-RML via AP)
COVID at a glance for Thursday, Jan. 21

The most recent state and local numbers.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy addresses the public during a virtual town hall on Sept. 15, 2020 in Alaska. ( Courtesy Photo / Austin McDaniel, Office of the Governor)
Dunleavy pitches dividend change amid legislative splits

No clear direction has emerged from lawmakers.

Joar Leifseth Ulsom, right, wearing a bib with ExxonMobil lettering on it, congratulates Peter Kaiser on his win in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Nome, Alaska. The world’s most famous sled dog race has lost another major sponsor as the Iditarod prepares for a scaled-back version of this year’s race because of the pandemic, officials said Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021. ExxonMobil confirmed to The Associated Press that the oil giant will drop its sponsorship of the race. (Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News)
ExxonMobil becomes latest sponsor to sever Iditarod ties

The world’s most famous sled dog race has lost another major sponsor.

Has it always been a police car? (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire)
Police calls for Friday, Jan. 22, 2021

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Most Read