Good for enterprise and nature, kelp grows on Maine fishermen

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When Luke’s Lobster opened a wharfside restaurant in Portland, Maine, in early June, there was extra to the menu than the model’s signature crustacean. For one, a summer season salad contains a kelp buttermilk dressing.

Luke’s Lobster co-founder Ben Conniff sings seaweed’s praises. “It’s nice for the surroundings. It’s extraordinarily wholesome,” he says.

The dish is emblematic of a turning tide in Maine. The seafood firm prides itself on the sustainable enterprise it has constructed with Maine fishermen, who more and more look to aquatic crops like kelp for low season earnings. Mr. Conniff says he needs to assist “ease folks into the dialog about how nice [seaweed] is.”

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In a state the place lobster is king – with a market valued at $484 million in 2018 – aquaculture, or the farming of aquatic species, is turning into a contender. 

Maine has round 150 aquaculture lease websites for operations that embrace oysters, finfish, and seaweed. Within the decade since 2007, the full financial affect of Maine’s aquaculture has nearly tripled, to $137 million, in accordance with a report from the College of Maine. 

China and Indonesia produce the majority of the world’s seaweed, largely for human consumption. However Maine has change into an aquaculture chief within the U.S. as dwelling to the nation’s first business seaweed farm, Atlantic Sea Farms. It helps that seaweed aquaculture tends to be much less capital-intensive than fishing.

Low season earnings apart, cultivating seaweed permits fishermen a hedge in opposition to lobster’s unsure future. With altering business practices, a bait disaster, and warming waters affecting lobster fishing, an environmentally pleasant crop like cultivated kelp looks like a very good choice to many.

“I don’t suppose anybody is disputing that the Gulf of Maine is a distinct place now than it was 30 years in the past,” says Merritt Carey, board member of the Maine Seaweed Council and founding father of Tenants Harbor Fisherman’s Co-op.

Wild kelp isn’t resistant to that shifting world, both. Local weather change and invasive species are contributing to the decline of Maine’s southern seaweed beds, in accordance with researchers. 

However that’s the place kelp farmers will help: Cultivated beds take in the carbon dioxide that has made waters much less liveable for marine life, in accordance with the Bigelow Laboratory of Ocean Sciences. And seaweed is a “zero-input crop” that doesn’t want pesticides or soil to flourish. The World Financial institution has touted nutrient-rich seaweed as one potential resolution to world meals insecurity.

Regardless of its sustainability, aquaculture comes with controversy. Lobstermen compete to fish in locations which might be additionally fascinating as aquaculture websites, and owners are protecting of their waterfront properties. Maine’s Division of Marine Assets would possibly amend its guidelines regulating the dimensions and site of aquaculture leases.

Coaching applications, such because the Maine Sea Grant’s “Aquaculture in Shared Waters,” assist fishermen transition into aquaculture. The 11-week course gives aquaculture coaching that covers subjects like web site choice and monetary administration.

“There’s a really robust and really intentional end result of this – assembly your colleagues and making an expert community. That helps to construct neighborhood,” says program chief Dana Morse, extension affiliate for the Maine Sea Grant program and College of Maine Cooperative Extension.

Joe Younger from Corea, Maine, was an inaugural pupil. A sixth-generation fisherman, Mr. Younger relied on lobstering for nearly 40 years. However in 2013, he realized his profitable business was weathering some uncertainty.

Information of the Aquaculture in Shared Waters program piqued his curiosity; he cobbled collectively sufficient fishermen to carry a category. Now semi-retired, he grows oysters and kelp in a tidal pool on his property and plans to develop.

Mainers are eager to unfold the gospel of seaweed to develop native demand. Luke’s Lobster offered a grant via its Keeper Fund to analysis kelp’s potential to curb ocean acidification. 

This Could’s kelp harvest coincided with Maine’s – and presumably the nation’s – first Seaweed Week, a meals crawl of greater than 60 Portland eateries that provided seaweed-inspired delights. Josh Rogers, the occasion’s producer, mentioned foodies got here from as distant as Washington, D.C.

“So many extra folks than you’ll suppose are actually open-minded about seaweed,” says Mr. Rogers, who sells home made seaweed tea. “They simply don’t know how one can get it into their diets.”

Mr. Rogers owns Heritage Seaweed, a Portland store that claims to be the primary of its form in North America devoted to the trending algae. He says persons are accustomed to seaweed cosmetics, however shocked to seek out it in so many edible kinds.

“We have now a seaweed fudge,” he says. “That at all times makes folks giggle.”

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