Executive Summary for January 11th

We review and analyze the latest news and most important developments in the Arctic, including a shellfish farming boom in Alaska, science-based decisions for Canada’s marine protected areas and how changing sea ice conditions challenge Arctic shipping.

Published on Jan. 11, 2016 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

Shellfish Farming Hits Million-Dollar Milestone in Alaska

Alaska’s mariculture industry surpassed US$1million in shellfish sales in 2014, reports the Alaska Dispatch News. Aquatic farming is a small but growing industry in the state that some say could become a $1 billion industry by 2045.

Farms produce oysters, geoducks, blue mussels, littleneck clams and cockles. Others sell seed to aquatic farmers. Most of the farms are located in southeastern Alaska.

There are plans to expand the industry to include farmed seaweed.

Seaweeds are being used in a wide variety of products from food to biofuels to cosmetics. Edible kelp drives a $5 billion industry worldwide. The International Business Times reported that an unexpected red algae seaweed shortage had led to a shortage of materials used in laboratory research. But bioenergy no longer appears to drive the seaweed industry, reports Hakai Magazine.

Alaska lawmakers approved aquatic farming of shellfish and marine plants in 1988, but initially lacked a statewide plan to promote its development.

Changing Ice Conditions Challenge Arctic Shipping

The icebreaker Fennica slipped through the Northwest Passage in October and November, and in December, the Vaygach, a nuclear-powered Russian icebreaker, transited the Northern Sea Route in just seven-and-a-half days.

These excursions have been seen as a sign of how changing ice conditions in the Arctic will lead to more shipping in the region, when in fact the variability in ice conditions may hamper safe navigation, the Maritime Executive reports.

Summer cruises in the Arctic will face uncertain conditions, Captain David “Duke” Snider, who was on board the Fennica, was quoted as saying.

The reduction of Arctic sea ice has led to unusual conditions in the Arctic Ocean, including strong winds, high waves and more rapid sea-ice movement when cyclones move into the area. Safe navigation through Arctic shipping routes will require better weather forecasts and improved modelling of sea-ice conditions, the article stated. Safe Arctic travel will require more detailed observation of Arctic weather.

Canada’s Expansion of Its Marine Protected Areas to Be Rooted in Science

Canada’s federal fisheries minister Hunter Tootoo has said that the establishment of marine protected areas will be based on scientific research, CBC News reported.

The government has said that it will set aside 5 percent of Canada’s oceans as marine protected areas by next year and hit its 10 percent target by 2020. Currently, only 1.3 percent of Canada’s marine area is protected.

To hit the targets, the government must consider areas along all three of Canada’s coasts. Tootoo has already met with environmental groups from the Arctic and the West Coast. Oceans North Canada has identified the Churchill and Sea rivers, home to beluga, as an area in need of added protection, according to the CBC report.

Manitoba released its Beluga Habitat Sustainability Plan on Friday to preserve and protect the beluga whales that gather in the estuaries of Hudson Bay every summer. The Globe and Mail reported that the province has asked the federal government for assistance in protecting the area.

Receding sea ice, noise, pollution, hydroelectric development and boat traffic are seen as threats to the beluga whales, which bring in nearly $6 million ($4.2 million) annually in ecotourism in Churchill, according to the Globe and Mail.

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Top image: Alaska could soon be farming seaweed as part of its growing mariculture industry. Seaweeds are used in a variety of products, including foods and cosmetics. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)