Fishers set out equipment a short distance from shore in the Tongass National Forest. The federal government on Friday announced it is awarding a $49 million grant to Alaska Mariculture Cluster, which is seeking to develop a $100 million a year sustainable seafood program in Southeast Alaska and other parts of the state. (Courtesy Photo / U.S. Forest Service)<strong></strong>

Fishers set out equipment a short distance from shore in the Tongass National Forest. The federal government on Friday announced it is awarding a $49 million grant to Alaska Mariculture Cluster, which is seeking to develop a $100 million a year sustainable seafood program in Southeast Alaska and other parts of the state. (Courtesy Photo / U.S. Forest Service)

Sustainable seafood project wins $49M grant

Alaska Mariculture Cluster hopes Build Back Better funds creates $100M annual industry, 1,500 jobs

A $49 million grant to spawn a sustainable mariculture project advocates hope will grow into a $100 million a year industry in Southeast Alaska and other parts of the state was announced by President Joe Biden on Friday.

The grant to Alaska Mariculture Cluster, led by the Southeast Conference, is one of 21 awarded nationally through the $1 billion Build Back Better Regional Challenge, which allocated between $25 million and $65 million to regional coalitions representing 24 states. A total of 529 applicants sought grants and Southeast Conference was one of two Alaska entities named among the 60 finalists earlier this year.

The Alaska Mariculture Cluster’s hopes to achieve its $100 million per year industry and create 1,500 jobs in 20 years. Pacific oysters, geoducks, kelp, blue mussels, red king crab and sea cucumbers are among the species specified in its production goals.

“Projections from this 20-year goal, adjusted for inflation, could yield a mariculture industry of $1 billion in 30 years, given an industry-led, coordinated effort utilizing public-private partnerships and a statewide comprehensive plan designed to reach this goal,” a project summary notes.

The project will establish a Revolving Loan Fund for local businesses seeking to grow, development of mariculture-focused workforce training programs, and research funding to develop seaweed and shellfish products. It is partnering with Sealaska with the goal of focusing on needs specified by tribal, rural, and underserved communities.

The other finalist was a coalition of Southeast Alaska Native organizations participating in the Spruce Root Development project seeking to improve the economic and infrastructure status of Native communities in the region. It did not receive an award despite Assistant U.S. Commerce Secretary Alejandra Castillo visiting Juneau in May to meet with project leaders.

However, Spruce Root and Southeast Conference are partnering on projects with mutual goals, and among other efforts is a meeting by both agencies with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and other regional groups to discuss next steps for the Southeast Alaska Sustainability Strategy.

“This announcement represents a key shift in approach, where the USDA is directly partnering with regional entities with on-the-ground presence and knowledge of the place and region,” a press release for the event notes. “Each of the partners will be speaking on the projects and significance of these cooperative agreements being signed. It is a celebration of collaboration and a shift into a new era for Southeast Alaska.”

Contact reporter Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com.

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