Personal Growth

A Maine-base firm helps fisherman turn into kelp farmers

For many years, Maine fisherman Steve Train has made a residing catching lobsters and different seafood. But as warming water off the Maine coast makes the way forward for the fishery extra unsure, he’s additionally now began farming kelp as a part of a rising community of fisherman and girls now working with an organization referred to as Atlantic Sea Farms. “It’s an opportunity for people to have another option to make an income,” he says.

Kelp has different benefits: As it grows, sucking up carbon dioxide, it helps struggle ocean acidification in native water, serving to native marine life like mussels develop stronger. And it doesn’t require any of the sources, from fertilizer to irrigation, of rising meals on land. “When you’re putting it on your plate and replacing broccoli, you’re actually adding something that is net positive,” says Briana Warner, CEO of Atlantic Sea Farms.

[Photo: courtesy Atlantic Sea Farms]

The Gulf of Maine is warming sooner than 99% of the ocean. Initially, that has helped lobster populations develop in components of Maine. But because it retains getting hotter, “at some point in the future, lobster larvae are not going to survive at the same rate that they currently are,” Warner says. Already, the numbers are unstable, with outcomes exhausting to foretell from one yr to the subsequent. By 2050, one examine from the Gulf of Maine Research Institute suggests, warming waters might make lobster populations drop by as a lot as 62%.

“We are not a rich state,” she says. “And our coastal economy north of Portland depends almost entirely on this wild fishery.” Unlike different states, she says, the place bigger fishing corporations dominated previously—resulting in over-fishing and the eventual collapse of fisheries—Maine has hundreds of impartial fishing corporations with single boats. “They’re looking at the future of the industry in a very different way than most fishing industries ever had, because they’re looking at it for their kids and their kids’ kids.”

Atlantic Sea Farms first began as a single kelp farm in 2009—the primary to turn into commercially viable within the U.S. —and Warner later began working with them as she was searching for methods to assist fishermen diversify their incomes within the face of local weather change. “We know that this can be done very, very well by fishermen who are using the same equipment that they use for lobster,” she says. “It’s done in the lobster off-season, and it uses much of the same skill set and the same equipment as as lobster fishing.” In 2018, she took over as CEO, and helped the community of latest kelp farmers develop; 27 now work with the corporate, and the annual harvest has grown from 30,000 kilos in 2018 to an anticipated 1.2 million kilos this spring.

[Photo: courtesy Atlantic Sea Farms]

The firm helps new farmers get leases from the state to work in a selected space, a course of that may take so long as a yr to get accepted. Then it helps them design and arrange their new farm. It additionally gives free seeds to begin the farm, after they’ve been incubated in saltwater tanks on land; seed-covered twine is wrapped round lengthy horizontal strains within the water, after which the seaweed begins to develop. After planting round November or December, the kelp could be harvested the next spring. The course of isn’t straightforward. Train says that his first yr, his moorings weren’t heavy sufficient, and he couldn’t harvest. But the corporate helps farmers troubleshoot, and likewise ensures that it’s going to purchase no matter a farm produces. A farm can turn into worthwhile pretty rapidly. “Once all your capital is taken care of, a few weeks of harvest time has a pretty good chance of being a couple of months’ pay,” he says.

The firm can be serving to develop the marketplace for kelp. “When you walk into the grocery store right now, let’s say there’s 16 aisles in the grocery store, you can only find seaweed in one aisle,” says Warner. “And it’s all imported, and it’s all dried. So that means we have 15 and a half aisles to put kelp, and we’re on a mission to do that.” They now make merchandise like “sea-chi,” a model of kimchi, kelp cubes that may be added to smoothies, and shredded kelp that they are saying could be added to salads or used as toppings on pizza or tacos. In the previous, they labored with chef David Chang so as to add kelp to a salad on the quick informal chain Sweetgreen, and plan to work with extra eating places. The product can be utilized in dietary supplements and cosmetics.

If the marketplace for kelp can develop, the community of farmers can develop sooner. “The more people we get in the water to farm kelp, the more resilient the coast is,” Warner says says.

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