In an effort to boost Alaska's blue economy and cultivate a thriving domestic seaweed and shellfish aquaculture industry, NOAA Fisheries, in partnership with the state of Alaska, have announced Alaska’s state waters as the next region to look for Aquaculture Opportunity Areas (AOAs). An AOA is a defined geographic area that NOAA has evaluated through both spatial analysis and environmental review and determined to be environmentally, socially, and economically appropriate to support multiple commercial aquaculture operations. This is a state with much potential for aquaculture - Alaska’s coastline is longer than all lower 48 states combined!
NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) will provide crucial spatial analysis support during the AOA identification process. NCCOS will develop holistic spatial models of Alaska’s coastal ecosystems to support siting and environmental review. This site suitability work will also provide a forum for foundational engagement with tribal and stakeholder communities.
Using comprehensive marine spatial planning as an underlying framework, the AOA identification process will involve careful consideration of various factors. Spatial analyses, Indigenous knowledge, and public engagement will guide the selection of areas that may be suitable for aquaculture development while minimizing conflicts with other ocean uses. The spatial planning process will consider existing uses such as military areas, navigation, industry uses, protected species, and sensitive habitats to ensure the sustainability and compatibility of aquaculture operations.
NOAA's decision to begin the multi-year AOA identification process in Alaska state waters follows ongoing efforts in federal waters off Southern California and in the Gulf of Mexico. NCCOS is committed to ensuring that the AOAs that are ultimately identified in Alaska align with other ocean industries, oceanographic and environmental considerations, and natural resources. Interactive tools developed by NOAA and partners, like OceanReports, MarineCadastre, the Coastal Aquaculture Planning Portal, National AquaMapper, and the Alaska Aquaculture Permitting Portal and Mariculture Map, will provide valuable geospatial data and actionable information for planning, authorizing, and mitigating aquaculture development.
This initiative marks an important step toward realizing the sustainable and prosperous future of aquaculture in Alaska. Stay tuned as NCCOS continues to contribute to the growth and resilience of our nation’s New Blue Economy through science-based approaches and responsible coastal resource management.