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A Look Inside Maine’s Growing Kelp Industry

Did you know Maine is currently the largest producer of kelp in the United States?

There are farms located across our entire coastline, including a few off Sprucehead Island.

Kelp has quickly become Maine’s new cash crop.

Island Institute is partnering with Atlantic Sea Farms and their kelp farmers to offer boat tours during this year’s harvest.

Atlantic Sea Farms will buy the seed for farmers, and they will buy the kelp that is produced.

Fishermen like Keith Miller from South Thomaston get to make some extra money in the spring harvesting kelp when lobstering is slow.

“He’ll get 50,000 or 70,000 pounds of kelp out of his farm the next couple of weeks,” said Nick Battista, chief policy officer for Island Institute. “We’re working with a couple of fishermen on kelp who last year made more on their kelp farms then they made lobstering.”

By growing seaweed in their off season from fishing, farmers are not only putting money in their own pockets, but they’re also helping the local economy and the environment.

Kelp’s aquaculture benefits the marine ecosystem by improving water quality through the uptake of excess nutrients.

“Kelp takes nutrients out of the water, so it takes phosphorus nitrogen out of the water and CO2 out of the water, and so, it ends up leaving the water better than it was when I started growing,” explained Battista.

It also serves as a nursery habitat for many marine species.

“If you start growing mussels, and then you surround the mussels with a kelp farm, we see that the muscles grow better. It’s a better-quality product. Chefs like them better. That’s in part because of the buffering from the kelp farm. It’s preventing the ocean from becoming more acidic,” said Battista.

While kelp can be used in many different ways, it’s most commonly used in Maine for food – like burgers.

“Kelp burgers are like a veggie burger, but they’re kelp. They’re totally worth trying,” Battista said. “Kelp is showing up in some of the major supermarkets like Whole Foods and lots of different products have kelp.”

Kelp is certainly profitable.

According to Island Institute, if you’re using it for food, you can pay fishermen $0.50 or $0.60 a pound. If you’re using it for something else like fertilizer or as an additive for other things, you’re much closer to $0.10 a pound.

“Almost 98% of kelp for human consumption is grown in Asia, so we really have an opportunity to expand this industry, and it’s happening at a time of year when most people aren’t using this area anyways,” explained Molly Miller, community development officer for Island Institute. “So, if there are concerns about kayaking or other recreational uses, this comes out of the water by the time most people are wanting to use this space anyways.”

Maine’s edible seaweed market is catching the attention of many municipalities across the state, too.

The hope is this will become a critical resource for the Maine seaweed aquaculture industry.

“I think that we’re got some really smart young people out here and older people that have done it for a long time all working together to make it work, 20 years to 40 years from now having our waters clean and still producing,” said Sandy Moore, selectboard member of the town of Thomaston.

Island Institute will be co-sponsoring an event on June 15 called ‘Talking Aquaculture in Maine: Super Powers of Seaweed’ at Lincoln Theater in Damariscotta.

It’s a free event for the public.

Source: Wabi5