New details have emerged on the proposed kelp farm to be sited 2.7 nautical miles south of Seward. If finalized by the Southcentral Regional Land Office (SCRO), the 28.9-acre farm site will be leased to Seward-based Fisherman Fresh at a rate of $3,950 a year.
Under the proposal, vessel traffic would be rerouted around the site during growing season, which would occur from the end of October through April. Four mooring buoys would mark the corners of the site, which consist of 90 400-ft. ribbon and sugar kelp longlines and be anchored with a total of eight anchors. All gear would be removed after harvest, including anchors.
“When we were picking out a site, we wanted to be able to pick out a chunk of area that was big enough so that we could actually produce enough kelp to make it an economically viable thing,” said Fisherman Fresh Co-owner Briana Murphy. “Kelp needs a certain depth range so that you can set your anchors. Resurrection Bay is extremely deep, so there are really only these very narrow kind of lines alongside the coast that are even available for setting anchors.”
Lowell Point residents and others are concerned about the proposed location. The area sees heavy recreational use, not just in the summer months, but also through winter. According to Alaska Natural Resource Specialist Brent Reynolds, the impact on traffic would be minimal.
“The configuration, timing of outplanting, and removal of gear is designed in such a way to minimize any potential conflict with other uses of the area,” Reynolds stated in an email.
Briana Murphy also noted that the only practical impact to the locals would be the appearance of the four mooring buoys during the winter growing season. Though the total area of the lease includes almost 29 acres, the growing area will be confined to eight acres, with the remainder of the area retained for anchoring gear.
“You’re only going to see buoys for 8.3 acres of that,” Murphy said. “I respect that people don’t want to see buoys, but as far as farming goes, seaweed is incredibly low-impact, just in terms of what it offers as far as purifying the waters, being a really great sustainable investment for moving forward in Alaska’s future, being something that is going on literally all over the state.”
A 58-foot fishing vessel would attend the installation, harvest and removal of gear. During the growing season a small aluminum skiff would make periodic checks on the crop. All seedstock would come from the Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery in Seward.
The statement from Resource Specialist Reynolds went on to highlight the benefits of the site if the proposal is finalized.
“The intent of aquatic farms, as well as the Aquatic Farm Leasing Program is to create an industry in the state that would contribute to the state’s economy and strengthen the competitiveness of Alaska seafood in the world marketplace, broadening the diversity of products and providing year-round supplies of premium quality aquatic products,” he stated.
Briana Murphy noted that much of the appeal of kelp farming for her stems from its sustainability and ecological benefits.
“Kelp produces five times more oxygen than land-based plants,” she said. “It soaks up excess CO2. It takes out excess phosphorus and nitrogen from the water. Apart from just kind of purifying the waters, it also provides a really beneficial habitat for juvenile fish and invertebrates, which in turn obviously creates just more biodiversity within the area.”
Murphy added that the environmental benefits would not just be confined to the local area.
“There are so many uses for seaweed, and I think people are just kind of reaching the tip of the iceberg now,” she said, “and since global production and consumption is just growing so rapidly, I think people are really trying to push into exploring biofuels and also seaweed as a plastics alternative.”
Though she went on to note that many resident concerns have already been addressed, much of the remaining opposition appears to revolve around the site’s reputation as a favorite recreation spot, citing the prospect that the four mooring buoys might spoil the view. Murphy noted that the ecological benefits would far outweigh any inconvenience caused by the temporary presence of the buoys, but she added that she understood the sentiment behind the opposition.
“Having grown up in Alaska and just seeing how much has changed and having grown up commercially fishing in one of the most pristine, beautiful, untouched areas that I’ve ever seen, I understand people’s concerns with development and losing some of that remote beauty that Alaska is so well-known for,” she said.
Citizen comments are welcome and must be received by Dec. 5 in order to appeal the SCRO’s final decision. All comments may be directed to Alaska Natural Resource Specialist Brent Reynolds at (907) 269- 8567, by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by fax to (907) 269-8913.