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The people behind the Southwest Alaska Municipal Conference say they’re very focused on Alaska seafood- which should come as no surprise, given that the industry is a huge economic driver in coastal Alaska. But as SWAMC executive director Shirley Marquardt freely admits, it’s not a diverse portfolio. She’s looking at new ideas for diversifying the economy.
“We don’t have a university system. We don’t have a hospital system for jobs and opportunities, etc- we’ve got seafood. So looking at mariculture seemed to be a really good fit with the question we’ve been asking for decades out there- ‘how do we diversify our economies so we’re not fully dependent on seafood, based on where we are and what we have to deal with,” Marquardt said.
She wants to foster a new generation of mariculture professionals, to grow the economies of coastal communities around Alaska. To that end, SWAMC partnered with the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation and Alaska Sea Grant to organize a three-day camp at the end of March for 20 aspiring kelp-farmers and interested stakeholders to get hands-on experience with kelp farming.
The application period has already closed- class fees were $600 per-person, with travel expenses covered by SWAMC to travel to Kodiak for the class. Lessons will include classroom study of business practices and the mariculture permitting process, as well as hands-on work in a boat harvesting kelp. This is the second training program of this nature to occur in Kodiak; Alaska Sea Grant hosted a training in spring of 2021 which led directly to the creation of at least one new kelp farm.
It’s not a coincidence the camp is being held in Kodiak.
“I think Kodiak is absolutely, without question, going to be at the forefront of it. And I’m hoping that that optimism and that interest in that entrepreneurship spreads down, out to the west through the rest of our region,” Marquardt.
Marquardt says it is yet to be determined whether or not this event will happen next year.