This week, we revisit the Kenai Peninsula Industry Outlook Forum. Earlier this week, we reported on efforts by the Kenai Peninsula Borough to expand agriculture opportunities on the Peninsula, but what about all of that ocean around us? Mariculture was a major topic at the forum last week in Seward.
Craig Fleener is the Program Manager for the Alaska Ocean Cluster, a group looking to make waves in the blue economy. He talked about some of the opportunities that are currently not being taken advantage of, and new opportunities that just emerging.
"I think we get stuck a lot in Alaska thinking based on what we’ve done in the past and the things that have made us solid and strong for all these years; oil and gas is a good example. Fish is a good example, and doing the same sort of thing that has really paid the bills for a long time. But if we’re going to think about Alaska in the distant future, we have to actually start looking at our economy in a different way."
"We have to start looking at manufacturing and exporting. We really do need to get back to the kind of agriculture we did a long time ago when we were providing (more than half) of our own food. We don’t really do that any more. We’re importing 97 percent of the food that we eat, which is really bizarre when you take a look outside this window and you can see the ocean, and we could actually produce, non-agriculturally, an awful lot more food from the water that’s right outside our doors. Because it can’t just be oil and gas. We have to look somewhere else. It doesn’t mean that we don’t want to do oil and gas development, we need to do that. It doesn’t mean we don’t want to do mining, it doesn’t mean that we don’t want to continue the kinds of asset development and natural resource development that we’ve done, but we have to think outside of the box and this really why I wanted to talk about the blue economy."
"Because other than oil and gas development and your typical type of fisheries, we’ve ignored the blue economy. Alaska is surrounded by water and we do very little to develop that economy. We have more coastline than the rest of the country, we have a third of the nation’s Exclusive Economic Zone and we’re doing very little with it. That’s an area of enormous growth potential that I think we need to put more energy into looking at."
We have access to vast natural resources. We don’t even know what we have access to right now. And with less ice in the ocean, with the potential for more shipping, the potential for more access, the potential for more goods coming in and going out by ship, I think that’s an area that is ripe for evaluation."
The blue economy vision is that by 2040, Alaska would grow by 50,000 jobs and $3 billion in wages, approximately equal to the oil and gas industry today. Now wouldn’t that be something else? If we all sat down and started working on developing the ocean economy, where we started thinking ‘okay, we actually have the potential for something to compete’...to add to our economy a billion or two billion or three billion dollars in the ocean sectors. I think that’s an area that needs a heckuva lot more attention and I know that there are a lot of other people that do as well."
The application and commercialization of new technologies and innovation to fisheries and marine sciences and engineering, referred to as the New Blue Economy, is one of the fastest growing sectors of the global blue economy. This maritime economic sector is currently valued globally at $1.5 trillion, and Alaska’s not participating much in that at all. If you exclude fishing and oil and gas, if you’re just talking about mariculture for example, we only contribute about a million dollars in the mariculture world. The Alaska Mariculture Task Force believes themselves that we could produce easily $100 million worth of economic input to the state."