Navigating the aquaculture leasing and permitting process in Alaska is a barrier to development. To reduce this barrier to sustainable aquaculture growth, we have produced a new permitting portal and guidance document to aid prospective and established farmers.
The mariculture industry in Alaska has great economic potential, and the Governor’s Mariculture Task Force set a goal of growing it into a $100 million industry in 20 years. However, one hindrance included the complex leasing and permitting process. The Task Force noted that farmers are required to file multiple permits with at least four different state and federal agencies—sometimes more, depending on the project. This results in a confusing and time-consuming process.
“The permitting portal and guidance document are the result of a collaborative effort by many stakeholders,” said Alicia Bishop, NOAA Fisheries Alaska Regional Aquaculture Coordinator. “We hope that these tools increase permit transparency and efficiency.”
NOAA Fisheries Alaska Region and Alaska Sea Grant spearheaded the project to create this user-friendly tool. It guides applicants through the aquatic farm leasing and permitting process in Alaska. Together they formed an interagency working group with state and federal aquaculture regulators including:
- Alaska Department of Natural Resources
- Alaska Department of Fish & Game
- Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation
- Alaska Sea Grant
- U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
- NOAA Fisheries
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
The working group developed the Alaska Aquaculture Permitting Portal and Alaska Aquaculture Permitting Guide. They bring together leasing and permitting information from state and federal regulators all into one place. These first-of-its-kind tools support new and existing farmers in navigating the initial application steps as well as authorization renewal, transfer, and amendment processes.
The resources also include:
- “Getting started” guidance
- Application process step-by-step flowchart
- Siting information
- Authorization amendment, renewal, and transfer information
- Resources for new growers
- Basics of aquaculture governance in Alaska
Once the materials were assembled, prospective and existing farmers reviewed the materials for usability. To leverage the state’s existing aquaculture experience, established farmers provided additional feedback and suggestions for new farmers to consider before starting the application process and siting a farm.
“I am very excited for this permitting portal to be an all-encompassing resource for those who are interested in or currently participate in aquatic farming, to address all their needs in one place,” said Michelle Morris, Alaska Department of Fish & Game Statewide Permit Coordinator.
“In addition to increasing the ease of navigating the permitting process, this portal provides a space for farmers to learn about wildlife in their area,” said Sabrina Farmer, biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “This will have long-term benefits for both the budding mariculture industry and the species we care about as Alaskans.”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also stated support for the initiative to streamline the process, which will result in consistent information submittals.
The interagency work group is excited to share the permitting portal with applicants during the 2022 state joint-agency application opening that runs from January 1–April 30 each year. The portal will provide much more detailed information about how to navigate the process than is currently available online, improving efficiency for applicants and regulators alike.
The portal and guidance document provide great examples of how state and federal agencies can come together to help meet industry needs and advance sustainable aquaculture. Aquaculture in Alaska continues to grow. The need for partnerships and proactive collaboration for an efficient, timely, and coordinated regulatory process that meets conservation, public health, and other legal requirements is growing as well.
Aquaculture is an increasingly integral source of safe, nutritious, and sustainable seafood for consumers. Increases in seafood demand, food security considerations, and economic opportunities highlight the need for increased domestic development of aquaculture in Alaska and along our nation’s coast.