Kelp farmers outplant first seeded lines of season

Kelp. (Photo by Ratha Grimes / Flickr)

Kayla Desroches/KMXT

A company that turns seaweed into pasta is planting the season’s first round of kelp in Alaska waters.

This week, Blue Evolution is set to transfer seeded line from its lab to the waters around Ketchikan and Kodiak.

Recently, they successfully transferred seeded line into Larsen Bay in Kodiak.

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Set net fisherman Erik O’Brien says his experimental crop had a rough start earlier in the year.

“Simply stated, I used floating line ‘cause it was the cheapest line I could get, and I didn’t see any other reason to buy more expensive line. Well, that floating line turned out to be a problem for me.”

He says in March, a storm broke the twine from its weights and the line floated to the surface, tearing off the kelp in the process. He says he started over in April with two types of edible kelp: Alaria and Saccharina.

The Alaria didn’t do so well.

“I just don’t think my site in Larsen Bay is the right growing environment, and I say that because we fish out in Larsen Bay and you see Alaria all over, but once you get inside Larsen Bay, you don’t see as much of it. There’s just not as much energy, wave energy, ‘cause it’s a very protected bay.”

According to O’Brien, it takes six or eight months for the kelp to grow, and this time, he’ll stick to Saccharina. He says he spends his summers in Kodiak and winters in Anchorage, and he’s hired a couple of residents from the community of Larsen Bay to help the operation along.

“They helped me set up the site. They helped me put up the anchors, build the site, set it up initially. They helped me seed over Thanksgiving and now, in coordination with my mom – my mom also is out there – they’re going to check on the kelps over the course of the winter to take measurements and see how fast it’s growing, seeing if there’s other weather damage or gear damage.”

He’s hired on local high schooler, Naiden Hochmuth.

“I was pretty much born and raised on a boat, fishing.”

He says he’s applied a lot of those skills to O’Brien’s operation and the job fits into the same things he likes to do in his spare time.

“A lot of hands on work. I love doing that. And helping people out. I help my dad build stuff like carpentry and kind of a little bit of electrician.”

Naiden says he also sees the job potential for the community if O’Brien’s operation grows.

O’Brien says if all goes well over the next few months, the site will yield a lot of seaweed – maybe up to 100,000 pounds – all of which they need to transport. He says the easiest option would be to ship it, but he hopes to do some initial processing in Larsen Bay.

He says that could involve getting a large drier to the community, which is something he says he’ll have to work out with Blue Evolution as the buyer. Freezing the kelp is another option.

O’Brien also says he has hopes of working with industry partners since they already have the processing equipment and money for transportation available.

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