Kelp Economy to Make a Big Splash in 2018
Farmed seaweed is about to go from being a poor cousin to a rising star in the Maine seafood industry, according to Trey Angera, one of the founders of the new Maine Seaweed Exchange, which is located in the same building as Fresh Catch in Port Clyde.
The Maine Seaweed Exchange will develop high standards for the best practices in organic seaweed farming, help new farmers get started growing seaweed, test the product for safety and quality, develop markets and products, and help coordinate processing, packaging and distribution.
Those best practices will also result in a standardized product for sale, according to Angera.
Standardization will open the pathway from seaweed being sold as a specialty product to growers being able to sell farmed seaweed in quantity to large companies that produce everyday grocery items — like McCormick spices.
Springtide Seaweed received a $150,000 grant from Maine Technology Institute (MTI) in December to help launch the Maine Seaweed Exchange.
“Our focus is to support farmed seaweed and encourage organic production,” said Angera. “Only farmed seaweed can be placed up for sale on the exchange.”
“Long term, I think a well-managed aquaculture industry is the best way to preserve our marine resources and sustain our coastal communities,” he said.
Angera said the Maine Seaweed Exchange will promote another kind of change: seaweed not as a consumption product itself, but as an ingredient.
In other words, fewer kelp noodles and more seaweed as a nutrient boost in things like smoothies and snack bars, and as a flavor enhancer in new products, such as high-end grocery items.
One of the luxury items currently being marketed by Springtide Seaweed is mayonnaise with truffle mushrooms and kelp flakes.
But it is the large mainstream clients interested in Maine farmed edible seaweed that will likely drive the seaweed economy.
The Maine Seaweed Exchange has already raised the $697,000 match for the MTI grant through investments and partnerships, including from Coastal Creations in Oxford, Maine, which makes fish stock for McCormick spices and also has one of the largest food dryers in the world, according to Angera.
McCormick wants a minimum of 10,000 pounds of dried seaweed to start, or about 100,000 pounds of wet, slimy product, said Angera.
That will require a lot more seaweed to be grown starting now.
The Maine Seaweed Exchange currently has 11 seaweed farms as members. Angera projects Maine seaweed farms will go from growing 150,000 pounds this year to roughly one million pounds by 2020, with an increase in market value from $400,000 to $3 million.
That means new farms are on the horizon. Angera’s analysis projects 27 new seaweed farms being established over the next two years, with an increase in seaweed farm payroll from the current $250,000 annually to $1.5 million.
Springtide Seaweed, in which Angera is a partner with founder Sarah Redmond, the former Maine Sea Grant seaweed specialist for the University of Maine until she became a full time seaweed farmer, is already training and mentoring new seaweed farmers on site and at Herring Gut Learning Center in Port Clyde.
Springtide Seaweed’s farm in Frenchman’s Bay is the largest seaweed farm in Maine. According to Angera, most Maine seaweed farms are located in Casco Bay.
Angera sees the Downeast coast as being a cleaner environment, with fewer boats, making it ideal for larger aquaculture farms. Downeast farms are also unlikely to conflict with lobster fishing, he said.
“Seaweed is a winter crop, and it’s mostly a seasonal business, so it’s ideal for lobster fishermen during the off season,” said Angera.
Angera, who came up with the idea of the Maine Seaweed Exchange, is well established in the organic food industry, from production to financing, product development to distribution, farmers to chefs. He was the first organic pork butcher and distributor in the New York City area and helped establish organic meat industry standards before moving on to sustainable fish, then seaweed across the New England area.
The Maine Seaweed Exchange is working with chefs in New York City, Boston and Portland this winter on seaweed-influenced dishes and will host a two-day Seaweed Conference and Fair on July 27 and 28 at The Strand in Rockland.