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Growing seaweed off the coast of Maine waters could contribute to environmental sustainability

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SAINT GEORGE, Maine (WMTW) — Maine leads the nation in seaweed farming.

Kelp farms are located in several areas off the coast of Maine, including Casco Bay and the Midcoast.

Keith Miller of South Thomaston is a pioneer in kelp farming. He has been fishing for decades and operates several kelp farms. He grows, harvests and then sells his kelp to seaweed farming company Atlantic Sea Farms, based in Biddeford.

Kelp is a winter crop, meaning it grows best between November and April. Miller and his crew have about a week left to harvest the crop before it’s time to get ready for lobster season.

Kelp gives fishermen the opportunity to stay on the water all year round, which might not otherwise have been possible. As a bonus, many fishermen already have the equipment needed to grow and harvest kelp.

“When it comes to what you fish, diversity is certainly a path to sustainability because it gives you the opportunity to stay on the water doing what you love and also makes it economically viable in the different seasons,” Maya Pelletier from Maine Aquaculture Innovation Center said.

Miller says he harvested about 5,000 pounds of kelp on a recent trip and sold it for 70 cents a pound. He says kelp farming is a more sustainable industry than lobster farming, where market prices fluctuate.

“Aquaculture is kind of taking the place of old fishing in that diversification and safety net of being able to have an alternative source of income,” said Olivia Richards, community development officer for the Island Institute.

Research has shown that the Gulf of Maine is warming faster than virtually any other ocean surface in the world, but fishermen say the ocean has been colder this year than in recent years, which in turn has helped this year’s kelp harvest.

“Right where kelp grows, ocean acidification levels are less acidic and acidic ocean water is detrimental to shell growth and shell stability for shellfish,” Richards said. “So by growing kelp alongside mussels, they’ve seen stronger shells and the ability of mussels to grow their shells faster.”

“We don’t have to feed it,” Pelletier said. “It can help regulate some natural systems, such as how much nitrogen and carbon dioxide are in the water. Then it eventually produces these beautiful plant-like organisms.”

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