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Development of cultivation protocols for the red seaweed, dulse, to support traditional food systems in Southeast Alaska

Investigators

Schery UmanzorUniversity of Alaska Fairbanks
Justina HotchUniversity of Alaska Fairbanks
Michael StekollFisheries Division
School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, University of Alaska Fairbanks

Student

Synopsis

We seek to merge indigenous knowledge with academia to develop, implement, and disseminate reliable cultivation methods for dulse in tumble culture. Dulse (commonly referred to as red ribbon seaweed) is a culturally valuable resource sitting at the heart of indigenous communities in Southeast Alaska. In 2016, an investigation found widespread contamination originating from the former Haines Tank Farm and Fuel Terminal that potentially harmed a traditional dulse harvest site. Increasing concern on reducing natural harvest sites motivates the development of viable and replicable cultivation protocols as an alternative to relieve pressure on natural populations and eventually grow dulse for income without supplanting or diminishing the traditional use of wild populations.

Overview

The issue

For thousands of years, the Tlingit people have developed systems of science and education indigenous to their home, Lingít Aaní. In a complex matrilineal society based on the balance of clan kinship, each Tlingit clan and kwaan has maintained stewardship of their lands, developed through millennia of indigenous science practices. This way of being has enabled a prosperous life in the homelands and communities of Tlákw.aan (Klukwan) and Deishú (Haines), located in northern Southeast Alaska. However, despite the stewardship efforts from both communities, environmental changes, driven directly or indirectly by human interactions, threaten the preservation of their traditional lifestyle. One of the current challenges faced by both communities is securing the continuity of wild seaweed harvesting, particularly of intertidal species.

Why is this an Alaska Sea Grant project?

This project relates to Sustainable Fisheries and Aquaculture (Sea Grant's focus area I), focusing on Goal #2: "sustainable fisheries and marine resources that provide safe food, jobs, and economic and cultural value." It also aligns with Resilient Communities and Economies (focus area III), aiming to merge traditional and scientific knowledge to prepare for and adapt to environmental scenarios that could disrupt community well-being. By fulfilling our goal, we will establish tumble culture protocols for Alaskan dulse and will provide the basis for the eventual cultivation of this seaweed at sea. Outcomes of this project will also provide a tool to inform potential efforts towards the recovery of sites depleted of dulse. If successful, dulse mariculture could be the key to starting abalone culture in Alaska.This project relates to Sustainable Fisheries and Aquaculture (Sea Grant's focus area I), focusing on Goal #2: "sustainable fisheries and marine resources that provide safe food, jobs, and economic and cultural value." It also aligns with Resilient Communities and Economies (focus area III), aiming to merge traditional and scientific knowledge to prepare for and adapt to environmental scenarios that could disrupt community well-being. By fulfilling our goal, we will establish tumble culture protocols for Alaskan dulse and will provide the basis for the eventual cultivation of this seaweed at sea. Outcomes of this project will also provide a tool to inform potential efforts towards the recovery of sites depleted of dulse. If successful, dulse mariculture could be the key to starting abalone culture in Alaska.

How will researchers conduct their study?

This project focuses on developing, implementing, and disseminating cultivation methods for the economic and culturally important Alaskan dulse. We will work closely with members of Chilkat Indian Village (CIV) and Chilkoot Indian Association (CIA) to understand concerns about the status of natural populations of dulse. UAF and Blue Evolution personnel will research to optimize cultivation methods (objectives 1 and 2). Together with NOAA, all partners will bring cultivation protocols to a larger audience (objective 3). As a first step, UAF will work directly with traditional harvesters from CIV and CIA to identify the species of interest. There are three species of dulse, all of which can have different growing requirements. Two hatchery facilities, one in Kodiak and one in Juneau, will conduct parallel and complementary work, enabling multiple iterations for 24 months. Cultivation will be undertaken in small-scale tumble culture indoor (or greenhouse) systems that will consist of enclosed containers with controlled air, temperature, and light inputs. Dulse samples will be divided into two groups. Blade tissue from one group will be fragmented continuously to produce biomass, and the other one will be induced to release spores that will then develop into thousands of blades. Growth rates of both methods will be compared to determine if there are significant differences in the biomass produced. Then, dulse will be grown using different photoperiods, nutrient levels, and temperatures to determine under which conditions dulse grows better. Finally, once protocols are established, the group will conduct hands-on sessions at Klukwan and Haines.