Seaweed is a $6 billion industry worldwide. Different types of seaweed are harvested for a variety of uses including fertilizer, food ingredients, and nutritional supplements.
With more people looking to grow seaweed, otherwise known as kelp, marine microalgae or sea vegetable, as a business or for supplemental income, the University of Maine-based Maine Sea Grant is teaming up with Maine shellfish farmers to build expertise in growing kelp.
Marine Extension Team members Dana Morse and Sarah Redmond are working with industry partners to construct a demonstration hatchery at the UMaine Center for Cooperative Aquaculture Research in Franklin, Maine. The project is being funded by a $19,999 grant from the Maine Aquaculture Innovation Center.
The industry partners are Pemaquid Mussel Farms (Carter Newell, Peter Fischer, Joe Larrabee, Tim Levesque), Evan Young of Blue Hill Bay Mussels, Matt Moretti of Wild Ocean Aquaculture, and Ocean Approved, the nation’s first commercial kelp producer.
The project is a leading Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture (IMTA) effort in the U.S. to produce kelp on commercial mussel farms. IMTA, an alternative approach to standard mono-culture aquaculture, is believed to reduce the environmental impacts of commercial aquaculture systems.
The kelp species being grown is the sugar kelp (Latissima saccharina). This species was chosen because of the existing know-how in producing seedlings, and the established market, both from Ocean Approved and wild harvesters. Sugar kelp is native to Maine, grows quickly, and can be delivered into a growing market. Through photosynthesis and growth, seaweeds remove carbon dioxide and nitrogen.
The pilot project aims to build expertise in kelp farming among shellfish farmers; improve communications between kelp producers and buyers, and improve profitability for both sectors; gather observations on environmental factors and growth to improve site selection and production methods; and continue technology transfer on kelp production to other potential shellfish or seaweed farmers.
The project is also an opportunity to evaluate the profitability of growing kelp. Seaweed aquaculture holds promise as a potential option for fishermen who are looking to diversify their income, and a way to keep working waterfronts active. As a winter crop, sugar kelp might be a product lobstermen could grow in the offseason. It would use much of the same expertise and equipment, and the crop is ready in April-June, at the point when many lobstermen are feeling the financial pinch.
Project partners began deploying seeded lines in November 2011 in Casco Bay, between the mussel rafts of Wild Ocean Aquaculture. The project has expanded to other sites to evaluate kelp growth in Blue Hill Bay, Lamoine, Belfast and Walpole, with sites in Stonington to come next.
The Marine Extension Team is a collaboration between Maine Sea Grant and UMaine Cooperative Extension. The team’s goal is to provide coastal communities and other stakeholders with scientific information and assistance while ensuring that researchers are aware of the most pressing issues facing the state.