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Cry for kelp: Maine’s struggling lobstermen turn to nutrient-rich seaweed

Kelp is emerging as a vital cash crop in Maine, providing a lifeline for the state’s hard-pressed lobstermen.

According to nutritionists, kelp, a form of seaweed, offers a raft of health benefits and is rich in nutrients and iron. It also contains vanadium, a mineral that is said to help people with diabetes.

The New England state is on the cusp of a seaweed boom with Atlantic Sea Farms, the first commercially viable kelp farm in the country, and is on course to harvest 1 million pounds in 2022.


Matthew Moretti, who studied marine biology, is farming kelp alongside mussels in Casco Bay.

(Washington Examiner)

This could hardly come at a better time for Maine’s lobstermen, who have faced a series of challenges in recent years.

Battered by trade wars, volatile prices, and regulations, life has become tough for an industry that supports 35,000 jobs, including about 5,000 lobstermen.

In July 2018, China slapped a 25% punitive tariff on Maine lobsters, which was a bitter blow for the industry given that the country accounted for 20% of sales.

To add insult to injury, Canada was exempted from the tariffs.

The industry recovered when China offered a one-year exemption in 2020, but then, COVID-19 hit.

Tourists, who descend on the state to feast on lobster, stayed away, and prices dropped, heaping more misery on one of the state’s flagship industries.

Last month, there was more bad news when a federal court, seeking to protect endangered whales, reimposed a ban on lobster fishing gear in a nearly 1,000-square-mile area of the Gulf of Maine.

Prices are plummeting again, at a time when lobstermen, like other businesses, are struggling to cope with soaring inflation.

Matthew Moretti, kelp farmer.

(Washington Examiner)

Thirty lobstermen — and a handful of mussel and oyster farmers — have already signed up with Atlantic Sea Farms.

“The lobstermen who were farming kelp had a fallback and were making up to $80,000 in the season,” Jesse Baines, the company’s marketing officer, told the Washington Examiner.

“This year, one of our partner farmers has made six figures from the farm,” said Baines.

It is encouraging news for Maine’s lobstermen who face longer-term problems that experts fear could pose an existential problem to the industry as a whole.

In short, lobsters are moving north because of climate change. According to one estimate, the Gulf of Maine is warming up faster than 96% of the world’s oceans.

Initially, this was good news for Maine, which prospered as lobster moved north from Cape Cod. However, the inexorable migration of the lobster population shows no signs of slowing down.

“If the temperature rises by two more degrees, then the lobster larvae can’t survive. I come from a lobstering family. My father is heading into his third season as a kelp farmer,” Baines added.

Baines said that lobstermen are “naturally” good kelp farmers due to the amount of time they spend in the ocean.

“As we all face down climate change and flail around wondering what to do, you have this community of lobstermen putting their heads down and getting to work,” Baines continued. “Kelp is a solution. It’s only in the last few years Maine has only had one species. The cod have gone. The shrimp have gone. It is an insurance policy.”

Matthew Moretti, who studied marine biology, is farming kelp alongside mussels in Casco Bay.

“We started farming mussels because it’s the most environmentally sustainable form of food production that we’d ever heard of,” he said. “And very soon after that, we started promoting health because it was an opportunity to have an even greater positive environmental impact on the ocean around us while producing highly nutritious food for our community.”

According to Moretti, kelp and mussels are beneficial for each other’s growth and grow in close proximity.

“Mussels are helping the kelp grow better, and kelp helps the mussels grow better. Both species combined are helping the local environment,” he said.

Growing kelp entails planting tiny seeds on 1,000-foot-long ropes in the fall.

By spring, the crop is ready for harvesting, with the kelp being flash-frozen and then marketed, primarily by Atlantic Sea Farms.

“We have several products we sell in grocery stores across the country,” Baines said.


“The ultimate goal is to make it easy to eat at home. There are kelp smoothie cubes, seaweed salad, kraut, and kimchi, which people can put on anything,” said Baines.

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