By Russell Stigall
The Hangar Ballroom was chock full of shucking Wednesday at the first night of the First annual Haa Aani Oyster Festival. The three-day festival is part of Sealaska Heritage Institute's biennial Celebration event.
Close to 100 attendees snacked on Alaska seafood and listened to speeches by Haa Aaní and Sealaska leaders and Governor Sean Parnell.
Parnell used the event to sign into law House Bill 121 (goo.gl/39pDH). The law sets up a revolving loan funds to provide capital to entrepreneurs looking to start a shell fish farm, a charter business or purchase a commercial fishing permit.
Gov. Parnell said the law creates opportunities for small business owners.
"We are creating better access to capital for those who want to enter," Parnell said.
The mariculture loan fund offers loans up to $100,000. Entrepreneurs can also draw up to $35,000 from a revolving micro-loan fund.
Chris McNeil, CEO for Sealaska, said the Sealaska Board of Directors recognized that Southeast Alaska communities "were shrinking and becoming economically unviable." He said he believed House Bill 121 could help.
"This will be the beginning of a new great opportunity," McNeil said.
"We'll make it law," Parnell said before he signed the bill.