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Applied Research for a New Seaweed Aquaculture Industry in Alaska

Investigator

Michael Stekoll Michael StekollNatural Sciences
University of Alaska Southeast

Student

Synopsis

The proposed research has the objective to address major constraints that limit the development and progress of developing seaweed aquaculture in Alaska. There has been increasing interest in seaweed aquaculture in the state. But currently, there is no commercial production of seaweed by any of the aquaculture farms in Alaska. The species that is most likely to have a ready market is the sugar kelp, Saccharina latissima. Although kelps have been under artificial culture for decades in other countries, little work has been accomplished on kelps in northern latitudes. The research proposed here addresses some critical questions, the answer to which will help create a viable seaweed aquaculture industry in the state. The objectives under this proposal are 1) to determine the timing of fertility of parent plants used to create seed, 2) to investigate ways to slow down the normal life cycle of the kelps to control the timing of outplanting, 3) to determine the best season, depth and location for outplanting the seeded lines, 4) to determine how to grow the kelps for the optimal quality, and finally 5) to determine whether strain selection is feasible with this species. The research involves both field and lab work. Fertility will be determined on plants collected by scuba throughout the year. Plants on seeded lines will be placed in the ocean throughout the year and at different depths. Oceanographic data will be collected and plant growth and quality monitored. Research on the alternate generation, gametophyte, will entail subjecting the microscopic plants to various conditions of light, temperature and nutrients to find ways to retard growth and reproduction. Strain selection will be examined using both parent plants and by making crosses using cloned gametophytes. Results of this research will be disseminated to interested parties by various means.

Project news can be found in the 2016 stories “University of Alaska professor receives Sea Grant funding for seaweed aquaculture research” from Alaska Sea Grant, “Investors bet on farmed kelp being Alaska's next seafood export” from Alaska Dispatch News, and “Southeast to begin seaweed farming soon” from Capital City Weekly.

Overview

Research collaborators

Premium Oceanic
Blue Evolution

Results

What researchers learned

Our research is focused on objectives that have direct implications to optimizing the kelp aquaculture industry in Alaska. We are working on understanding natural fertility patterns of sporophytes, which is critical to knowing the time frame available for seeding string. Additionally, we are innovating methods to better control the timing of the kelp life cycle in a hatchery setting that will provide more flexibility for potential hatchery operators and farmers in kelp outplanting times. Additionally, we are working on conducting research at an experimental kelp farm to provide insight to how outplant timing and outplant depth of seeded string may impact production of kelp farms. This grant is also providing training and mentorship to university students. Laboratory and fieldwork has been conducted with the help of University of Alaska Southeast undergraduates and will continue to provide internships and volunteer opportunities in the upcoming years. Additionally, this grant is supporting a graduate student (Annie Thomson) to pursue kelp aquaculture research and a masters in Fisheries at University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Research impacts

Alaska Sea Grant-funded researchers develop technologies used in commercial harvest of seaweed farmed in Alaska

Recap: Alaska Sea Grant–funded researchers developed methods that were used by the nascent kelp farming industry in Alaska to grow and harvest 10,000 pounds of seaweed.

Relevance: Seaweed farming presents a significant and sustainable economic opportunity for coastal Alaska communities. Technologies for culturing and outplanting seaweeds in Alaska are needed by this nascent industry.

Response: Alaska Sea Grant–funded researchers identified species of interest for the seaweed farming industry and then developed methodologies to collect fertile plants, grow young plants in a nursery, and for outplanting these young plants in the field for best growth potential.

Results: Blue Evolution, the first company to culture and harvest seaweed in Alaska, harvested 10,000 pounds of seaweed in 2017 from two independent kelp farms using methods developed by Alaska Sea Grant-funded researchers.