Alaska Aquaculture Permitting

Lease and permit information for commercial marine aquaculture activities

Permits for commercial marine aquaculture activities


Site suitability is an important factor to consider when starting an aquaculture operation. Designing an aquaculture project to avoid potential use conflicts and minimize potential environmental impacts increases the efficiency of the permit process and identifies possible issues early in the process. This section contains information not only about what to avoid, but also what positive characteristics to look for in a site to optimize growth and keep your crop healthy long-term.

The following site selection and mapping tools can help identify potential overlap with existing ocean user groups and biologically important areas adjacent to or within a proposed site.

screenshot of AOOS Mariculture Map
The Mariculture Map showing the Anadromous Waters and Active Aquatic Farming Operations layers.

Mariculture Map

This web-based mapping tool can be used to create the maps required by state and federal applications. Some layers also provide useful siting information and we have linked to them below under the relevant agency siting requirement or recommendation. For more information about interacting with and customizing maps refer to the documents in the AOOS Mariculture Portal.

NOAA OceanReports

This web-based, report-centric tool provides coastal and ocean planners with a high-level analysis for their custom-drawn area of interest. It provides summary statistics and infographics for six main topics: general information, energy and minerals, natural resources and conservation, oceanographic and biophysical, transportation and infrastructure, and economics and commerce.

Alaska Mapper

This online mapping tool can show the location of existing aquatic farms and other state authorizations. This information is helpful in determining areas where conflicts with other users may exist.

ADNR Area Plans

Planning documents used by ADNR to determine the compatibility of a project within a certain area. Will help applicants determine if aquaculture is an allowable use within a given area. 

Review the Siting Considerations listed below to determine what data layers to select in siting your shellfish, invertebrate, or seaweed farm. If you would like more information on aquatic farm site selection please reach out to Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Agent Melissa Good (907-486-1517) for guidance.

person in rainpants harvesting alaria kelp
Harvesting kelp. Photo: Sea Grove Kelp Company

Siting your farm will likely be an iterative process since there are many factors to take into consideration. This section is organized into general guidance; areas you must avoid when siting your project; and other biological and physical siting considerations for state and federal permitting.

ADNR requirements do not apply to farms sited on private tide land. However, an application must still be submitted to ADF&G and requirements still apply.

Beyond the state and federal permitting process, there will be local siting restrictions and regulations depending on your city or borough. See Talk To Your Community for tips on talking to your community—from tribal members to city government.

There is no substitute for going out and looking at potential sites yourself. Many questions about suitability can be answered by visiting an area multiple times, and talking to existing users about potential challenges and characteristics of an area.

ADF&G Local Area Offices can provide helpful information for siting your project.

State and Federal Siting Requirements

  • Proposed project(s) must be at least 300 feet from any anadromous streams (use the anadromous waters layer to measure distances to nearest streams)
  • Proposed project(s) must be sited in a configuration that does not impede the navigation of the waterbody
  • Proposed project(s) must be outside of existing USACE Civil Works projects and maintained federal navigation channels. Contact USACE at 907-753-2712 for additional information
  • Proposed project(s) must be sited outside the Glacier Bay National Park Marine Protected Area
  • Proposed project(s) must be sited outside Whiting Harbor in Sitka, Alaska

State of Alaska Siting Considerations

During the leasing and permitting process, the state of Alaska considers many different aspects of a project to determine potential issues and use conflict. While these are not requirements, it is helpful to know what other information the state will consider when reviewing your project. Below we have broken these down into: Biological Siting Considerations, Physical Siting Considerations, Legislative Designations for Non-Farming Purposes, and Other Considerations.

State-level Biological Siting Considerations

These are parameters as set out by ADF&G, ADNR, and ADEC for health and safety purposes, and to minimize impacts on the environment and existing users.

The items listed below refer to questions about site suitability in the Joint State Agency Aquatic Farming Application. These areas should be avoided, or applicants should contact the managing agency to determine how to avoid significant impacts either to the species or to your farm (contact ADF&G Local Area Offices, ADEC Shellfish Program Manager, and ADNR Aquatic Farm Leasing Program Coordinator at 907-269-8543).

The state-level biological siting considerations include:

State-level Physical Siting Considerations

Tokeen Bay oysters on the beach
Sorting oysters in cages with Tokeen Bay Oyster farm. Photo: Alaska Sea Grant

This information is best found by visiting your proposed site and talking with ADF&G Local Area Offices, an ADEC Shellfish Program Manager, or ADNR Aquatic Farm Leasing Program Coordinator (907-269-8543).

The state-level physical siting considerations include:

  • Farm parcels for one proposed project should be no more than approximately three miles apart in a single application
  • Year-round accessibility to proposed project site
  • Protected sites with low probability of severe storms or winter icing
  • Located outside high-use vessel traffic corridors
  • Equipment and anchorage built to withstand local tidal currents and severe storms
  • Good oxygen exchange/flushing and water circulation sufficient to disperse biological wastes. This is best measured at your site, but see these ocean circulation models for a general sense of your proposed site
  • Adequate salinity (salinity concentrations above 28 ppt are desired for both shellfish and kelp operations)
  • Adequate temperature (temperatures > 60℉ and < 31℉ may pose problems such as Vibrio bacteria contamination or icing)
  • Located outside significant freshwater influence (freshwater may impact shellfish growth and/or survival, or carry fecal coliform or other pollutants)
  • Minimal suspended sediments or turbidity. You can test water clarity using a secchi disc at your proposed project site
  • Acceptable water quality and no history of pollution sources (see Water Quality Layers)
  • For vertically suspended gear, it is recommended that the site have sufficient water depth of 30-40 ft. at mean low water (MLW) to prevent gear from dragging bottom at low tides (ADF&G). In addition for shellfish, depths ≥ 60 ft. are recommended to enable farmers to drop gear if water temperatures go higher than 60℉ to help minimize Vibrio spp. bacterial growth (use the Detailed Location Mariculture Map option for marine charts of your proposed site)
  • Appropriate bottom contour and characteristics for anchoring or substrate for intertidal culture (clams, geoducks, or beach hardening areas)
  • Avoids commonly used anchorages (ADF&G, ADNR management plans, and/or the applicable U.S. Coast Pilot)
  • Avoids Floatplane Access Areas (ADEC, ADNR)
  • Avoids oiled areas from the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. See these relevant map layers; for questions regarding specific areas, contact the Pipeline Corridor Regional Office at 907-271-4336 (ADEC)

Legislative Designation for Non-farming Purposes

There are some areas in the state that have been legislatively designated for purposes other than aquatic shellfish farms. Contact the ADF&G Statewide Permit Coordinator at for additional information. The following area(s) may not be compatible with aquatic farm development projects:

See the Refuges, Sanctuaries, Critical Habitat Areas & Wildlife Ranges list for details.

Other Considerations

There are additional considerations for choosing species of culture for an aquatic farm. Contact the ADF&G Statewide Permit Coordinator at for additional information. Think about the following when choosing a species:

  • For on-bottom culture, there is a user fee required by ADF&G to conduct a survey of the initial abundance of the species intended for culture
  • If a proposed commercial geoduck harvest site location has more than an insignificant wild stock geoduck population, as determined by ADF&G, any number in excess can be harvested by a common property commercial fishery, or may be harvested by the permit holder if the permit holder reasonably compensates the state (contact your Local Area Office)
  • When permitted operations conclude, restoration of wild stock numbers may be required

Shellfish Growing Area Classification

Before your permit is issued, ADEC will determine if an area is safe for the harvest and sale of shellfish. Please contact Carol Brady, Shellfish Specialist (907-269-7636, for more information and to receive an application. Farmers should consider the following when searching for a suitable aquatic farm site: 

  • Areas used by boats for recreation, moorage, and anchorage, or in close proximity to a proposed growing area may cause conditions that could prevent classification of the growing area. Look at the Mariculture Map layers to get a better sense of existing uses
  • Farms should be sited in areas free of waste discharge. Review potential discharge areas. Caretaker housing facilities are allowed, but must be a minimum of 300 feet from the boundary of a growing area if sewage is discharged. ADEC can approve a sewage disposal system adequate to protect shellfish from contamination for any caretaker facilities associated with an aquatic farm operation
  • Areas used by commercial fishing or personal use fishing/hunting within the immediate area or near the growing area could cause conditions that prevent classification of the growing area. This information is best found by talking with existing local users and nearby communities
  • Large wildlife populations in the area and/or the presence of anadromous waters may cause conditions that will affect water quality and thus food safety. This may be resolved in a classification area by limiting harvest times
  • An upland area where cabins and homes exist may cause conditions for food safety issues and thus prevent classification of the growing area. Previously existing facilities may have septic tanks that have been permitted by ADEC with in-water discharge of sewage which may prevent classification of the growing area. This information is best found by visiting your proposed site and city or borough planning department

Federal Biological and Physical Siting Considerations

The following areas and conditions should be avoided when possible, or applicants should contact the USACE at 907-753-2712 to determine how best to avoid significant impacts. Consider the following best management practices to further reduce the project’s potential impacts to listed species and habitat.

Federal siting considerations include:

  • Determine if the proposed site overlaps with Endangered Species Act (ESA) listed species, or designated critical habitat for both NMFS and USFWS, and avoid negative impacts to those listed resources.
  • Consider avoiding Biologically Important Areas (BIAs)
  • Identify if the proposed site overlaps with Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) for federally managed species (using this mapping tool or reviewing the Fishery Management Plan for the area) and avoid negative impacts to those species’ habitat components

Creating Your Maps

It is acceptable to use paper maps and hand draw the following requirements, but it is strongly recommended that you use the Mariculture Map for the General Location Map/USACE Vicinity Map, the Detailed Location Map, and the Site Plan Map/USACE Site Plan View, in order to create editable, high quality products. If you need to change any components of the maps due to application revisions, it can be done easily in the Mariculture Map. 

For help creating custom maps in the Mariculture Map tool, visit the Create Custom Map Overview and Create Custom Map How-to help page. On the Mariculture Map homepage you will see default layers for making the General Location Map, the Detailed Location Map, and the Site Plan Map. You can click on these links to load the appropriate map or chart for each of the requirements listed below. 

Note: While the Site Plan map link includes many relevant data layers as required by the State Joint Agency Application (see Site Plan Map Requirements below), it does not include ALL of the relevant components. Particularly examine  “known existing uses,” or other gaps that may not be captured in the preloaded Mariculture Map layers. Consider contacting the ADF&G Statewide Permit Coordinator ( the ADNR Aquatic Farm Leasing Program Coordinator (907-269-8543), and USACE (907-753-2712) to ensure your map requirements are met.

USACE-specific Steps

USACE-specific steps are indicated in bold. Otherwise, all steps apply to both the State Joint Agency and USACE applications.

Make sure each map includes the type of map (i.e. General Location Map), project name, and name of applicant. See USACE Drawing Checklist and the State Joint Agency Application and Instructions for more guidance.

General Location Map (USACE Vicinity Map)
general mariculture location map example
General location map example

The general location map is a larger scaled map showing a larger surrounding area with less detail. Use a USGS Topographic quadrangle map (scale: 1″ = one mile (1:63,360)) and label it “Figure 1.” Show the following information:

  • USGS Map name (e.g. Craig B-4)
  • Names of water bodies
  • General location of the farm site
  • Distance (in nautical miles) to the nearest community
  • Direction (arrow) of the site from the nearest community
  • Directional arrow identifying North
  • Scale on map
  • Legend box
  • List latitude and longitude of farmsite (USACE Vicinity Map)
  • Show and label areas with eelgrass, kelp, or mudflats (USACE Vicinity Map)

Detailed Location Map (State Application Only)
detailed location map
Detailed location map.

This map is a smaller scaled map showing more detail.

Use a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) navigational chart, label it “Figure 2,” and show the following information:

  • NOAA Chart Number
  • Boundaries of each farm area parcel with clearly labeled corners (NE, SE, SW, and NW)
  • Directional arrow identifying North
  • Scale on map
  • Legend box
  • If an upland area is proposed, provide the location and type of use (e.g. housing, storage shed)

Site Plan Map (USACE Plan View)
General location map
General location map for aquaculture planning

Draw an overhead view of the farm area parcel(s) and surrounding area. Label it “Figure 3” and show the following information: 

  • All in-water structures and anchoring systems (all anchoring systems and anchor scope have to be inside the farm parcel boundary)
  • Acres of each parcel
  • All equipment and support facilities with dimensions (in feet)
  • Areas of eelgrass beds (intertidal zone)
  • Areas of kelp beds (subtidal zone)
  • Fuel and chemical storage
  • Nearby anadromous streams (salmon)
  • Distance between all facilities, gear or equipment on the proposed  farm site
  • Legend box
  • For USACE Plan View, also include:
    • Name of water body
    • High Tide Line (HTL) and Mean High Water (MHW)
    • Distance between proposed activity and any nearby federally-authorized navigation channels or navigation projects
    • Major natural and man-made features on site and nearby
    • Cross-section views of locations (e.g. A-A’)
    • Water depths around the project (include whether you used MLLW or mean sea level)
    • Species to be cultivated and methodologies (e.g. long-line Pacific oysters)
    • Identification of areas with canopy predator nets
    • Areas of mudflats

Cross-Sectional Diagram(s) (USACE Section Views)

Provide cross-sectional diagram(s) of all support facilities, equipment, and gear, showing their placement and anchoring systems. More than one diagram may be required. Label it “Figure 4” (and so on) and show the following: 

  • Dimensions of all facilities
  • Gear or equipment on the proposed farm site
  • Distance from bottom of gear to ocean bottom at MLLW
  • Scale
  • Legend box
  • For suspended or on-bottom culture, also include:
    • Water depth at low tide
    • Major on-bottom physical features (e.g. bottom contours)
    • Dimensions of the anchoring configuration and weight
  • For USACE Site Map, also include: 
    • HTL, and MHW/MLLW
    • Cross-section view label (e.g. A-A’)
    • Type and location of materials used in construction
    • Method of construction
    • Height of all structures
    • Show and label areas with eelgrass, kelp, or mudflats

Detailed Drawings (State Application Only)

Provide detailed drawing(s) of all support facilities, equipment, and gear. Note that more than one diagram may be required. Label and show the following:

  • Dimensions (length/width/height) of all proposed gear and equipment
  • Legend box