UAF, Valdez form partnership to boost blue economy

Officials discuss strategy during a visit to Valdez
Photo by Jeff Fisher
From left, Prince William Sound College Assistant Professor Amanda Glazier, ABEC Associate Director Tommy Sheridan, PWSC Campus Director Dennis Humphrey, and ABEC Director Justin Sternberg discuss strategy for 2023 during a December 2022 visit to Valdez.

The city of Valdez has partnered with the University of Alaska Fairbanks' Alaska Blue Economy Center to support the city’s interests in mariculture development and the broader blue economy.

Recent successes include the Alaska Mariculture Cluster being awarded $49 million through the Economic Development Administration’s Build Back Better Regional Challenge grant program, which benefited from instigation and support by the city and ABEC. At a Jan. 12 “meet-up” in Anchorage, AMC leadership recognized the city of Valdez as a key stakeholder in their process and expressed gratitude for the city’s support.

As part of the AMC’s work, Prince William Sound College, which is headquartered in Valdez, will collaborate with ABEC and other University of Alaska partners to create and implement a sustainable mariculture-related workforce development strategy. Related activities will include the development and implementation of hands-on training materials for kelp hatchery systems, farm operations, marine safety and food safety. Trainings and materials will focus on successfully engaging Alaska Native and traditionally underserved communities interested and active in the mariculture industry. The city and ABEC are committed to ensuring that Valdez Native Tribe and other Alaska Native stakeholders throughout PWS are adequately and equitably represented so that they and their needs are served.

PWSC and UA partners will connect with and learn from mariculture practitioners outside of Alaska and across all different mariculture disciplines. To achieve these results, PWSC has received AMC funding to support PWSC Assistant Professor Amanda Glazier with her work in this area, along with the new hire of a mariculture instructor, curriculum Specialist, and other personnel as necessary.

“This is a very exciting time, with the mariculture industry growing so rapidly and all of the enthusiasm behind it,” Glazier said. “With this rapid growth, though, comes an increasing need for workforce development. These and similar collaborations are key to ensuring a knowledgeable and skilled workforce that has been trained using hands-on methods.”

In October 2021, the city of Valdez coordinated and hosted a two-day event sponsored by Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation with the goal of increasing the capacity of seaweed processing in Alaska. Local, state, tribal, university and seafood industry leaders engaged with international seaweed processing experts in a series of visits to local sites of relevance to mariculture development.

Of special interest to the international visitors was the Valdez Grain Terminal, with a total capacity of 522,000 bushels. Originally commissioned in the 1980s, informal appraisal of these facilities results in a total valuation of more than $70 million were the facility to be constructed today. These facilities would be ideal to support and demonstrate seaweed storage and secondary processing while leveraging existing facilities and minimizing cost to funding agencies and partners.

“The port of Valdez is truly unique among Alaskan communities and has much to offer seafood and mariculture industry participants,” said city of Valdez Ports and Harbors Director Jeremy Talbott, who also serves on the Board of Directors for the newly formed Alaska Mariculture Alliance.

The main operations for the port include the Valdez Container Terminal, a deep-sea general cargo and container terminal with a 21-acre marshaling yard, and the adjacent 3,000-acre Valdez Industrial Park, all of which is connected to the North American road system. Other notable facilities include a newly renovated harbor system, waterfront property ideal for seafood processing facilities, the John Thomas Kelsey Municipal Dock featuring a 600-foot wooden wharf that can accommodate cruise ships of up to 932 feet in length, and an adjacent plaza that serves both the cruise ship passengers and the community for special events. And perhaps its most famous feature is the Alyeska Marine Terminalthe southern terminus of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline.

In March 2022, the city and ABEC agreed to partner in their efforts to develop Valdez’s assets and capacity to serve regional and statewide mariculture growth through the creation of the Prince William Sound Mariculture Hub. Founded in 2019, ABEC combines UAF’s extensive research, instruction and public engagement related to Alaska’s offshore and inland aquatic resources and ecosystems. ABEC was created to stimulate new external funding in fisheries, mariculture, energy, marine observing, technology and training. The Mariculture Hub will create an open platform that facilitates business development, investment, research, and public-private partnerships through a coordinated approach that combines industry, government and academia.