What is Seaweed used for?
Seaweed is touted as a miracle product, attracting interest from various sectors, including biotechnology, energy, climate, and agriculture. Seaweed is used to create emulsification in chocolate milk and toothpaste, glues, gums, paints, and even fracking liquid. Seaweed forests harvested from our coastline are being turned into fertilizer, foliar spray, dairy food amendment, and countless industrial applications, global demand for which is increasing every year.
The hype for kelp burgers and kelp biofuels and kelp plastics may reside mostly in the business section of the newspapers, with big investments, big promises, and big biotech companies creating shiny futurist ‘save the world’ narratives. The trouble is that the seaweed has to come from someplace. Right now, it's a lot cheaper to supply these markets by over-harvesting from the wild with few, if any, ecological regulations in place.
Who is Harvesting?
Seaweed is being harvested by various actors, each working at differential levels of scale, economic viability, and environmental impact. Small scale wild-harvesters hand-cut their seaweed, and are often tuned-in to the growth and health of areas that they cut. Industrial harvesters like Acadian Seaplants contract out
Industrial Wild Harvest
International companies like Canada’s Acadian Seaplants harvest in many countries around the North Atlantic, including here in Maine in the US. A few years ago they began their wild harvest in Ireland, much to the dismay of traditional harvesters, coastwatchers, and those concerned about ecologically sensitive areas of the coast where these seaweed forests are important. Other local companies threatened Bantry Bay with mechanized extraction of subtidal kelp forests, spurring the formation of a diverse group of citizens devoted to the protection of these swaying kelp forests and the marine community that depends on them.
Citizen scientists in Maine and elsewhere have found that these international players pay no regard to regulations that are currently in place for cutting seaweed.
Everywhere there is seaweed, there are a handful of committed and dazzled small-scale seaweed wild-harvesters. Support our friends and local seaweed heros!
Northern California: Daybreak Seaweed | Northern California: Ocean Harvest Sea Vegetable Co. | British Columbia: Dakini Tidal Wilds | Pacific Northwest: Ryan Drumm and Mermaid Botanicals | Maine: Smithereen Farm | Maine: Atlantic Holdfast | Maine: Maine Seaweed LLC