Commercial fishing and other boats are moored in the Homer Harbor in this file photo. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)

Commercial fishing and other boats are moored in the Homer Harbor in this file photo. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)

Seawatch: Local shellfish growers win Farm Family of the Year

Bates family of Halibut Cove wins mariculture Farm Family of the Year.

A Halibut Cove couple has won the 2020 Alaska Farm Family of the Year Award for mariculture, the first time in the history of the award.

Greg and Weatherly Bates, owners of Alaska Shellfish Farms and Oyster Point oysters and mussels brand, are the first to raise seafood as their annual crop.

The award is given every year as part of the Alaska State Fair, which was canceled this year due to the pandemic.

They were surprised to hear that they had been awarded the honor, Weatherly Bates said.

“We’re so thrilled and honored that that has been given to us this year. We were super surprised. We had no idea that there was this ongoing nomination process,” she said.

They were told they were the unanimous choice, partly because the State of Alaska has been focusing on the industry, with Gov. Mike Dunleavy establishing a mariculture task force.

“It might have been really good timing,” Bates said.

The couple moved to Alaska in 2007 after coming up on their honeymoon from running an oyster farm in Maine.

“There’s just so much clean water, and we just felt like there’s so much opportunity for mariculture here. Coming from the East Coast it’s sad that the fisheries there have declined so much,” she said.

Weatherly studied fisheries management back east, and felt there was a disconnect between the science and government.

“It was so lobbyist-driven, and I decided I could make a bigger difference helping Greg grow seafood sustainably,” she said. “We’ve been committed to grow sustainable protein pretty much from nothing, and I feel like in turn that might reduce pressure on over-fished wild species.”

The couple has also been studying their farm location as a source of kelp, something that is gaining interest in many places in Alaska.

The Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation and their partners are accepting applications through Feb. 1 on the Alaska Sea Grant website, alaskaseagrant.org, seeking a new cohort of participants for virtual format training for over 100 people in 2021.

The goal of the program is to provide tools and training necessary for Alaskans to own and operate their own seafood farm. The program is targeted towards commercial fishermen, Alaska Natives and fishing communities, AFDF officials said.

It will include an online webinar on Feb. 2, a series of virtual technical multi-day workshops over one week beginning on Feb. 22, one-on-one mentoring for high-performance participants, and potential in-person hands-on field training in the spring and summer of 2021, depending on the status of the pandemic.

Cristy Fry can be reached at realist468@gmail.com

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