Kodiak’s seaweed industry is growing, partly thanks to the investment of one company.
Blue Evolution is based in the Lower 48 and turns kelp into pasta products. In May, they successfully completed harvest with a local fisherman in the City of Kodiak. Now they’re gearing up to plant some more seaweed in Alaska waters.
KMXT’s Kayla Desroches dropped by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Kodiak Fisheries Research Center to speak with Tamsen Peeples, Alaska Operations for Blue Evolution.
Peeples unwraps some dried kelp and drops the leaves into a large tank.
“We basically try to simulate spore release by stressing out the plants. We dry them out, we put them in the dark, and that stimulates them to release their spores when they’re reintroduced to sea water.”
Next, she pours some fertilized water into the tank to encourage spore release. The ultimate goal is to grow the spores out enough to transfer them to one of their sites, a process which Peeples says takes six to eight weeks.
Peeples carries the tank back to the cold room where Blue Evolution keeps the rest of the seeded tanks.
Peeples says the room is set at the optimal grow temperature for the kelp – about 50 degrees in the water.
Each tank is full of what looks like brownish spools of thread, which isn’t far off from the truth. They’re pipes wrapped in seeded string, and the string is darker or lighter depending on the growth.
Peeples points out the labels on the corner of each tank.
“You can see the date that’s listed is the date they were seeded. So, when we put the spores into these tanks with the string wrapped around the pipes, those spores swim around for about 24 hours before they settle onto the pipes. From there, they… grow into tiny little blades.”
Peeples says some of the spores are growing better than others, although she’s not sure why – the conditions are all the same, from the water to the fertilizer.
“The more I learn about kelp the more I realize we know nothing about kelp. We like to think that we know what we’re doing with it and how it operates and behaves, but it always ends up surprising us.”
She says Blue Evolution relies on the natural cycles of Alaska kelp and uses those plants to source the seed they use in their lab. Their pilot year was an especially warm one and, it turns out, 2017 is on the chillier side.
“Last year, we were in full operation in our hatchery by late August, and we are currently still producing seed, so we’re gonna be two of three months behind what we were last year. Whether or not that’s behind schedule, we’ll see.”
She says the permitting process also delayed things, but the Onion Bay and Larsen Bay sites now have their paperwork in order and are ready for outplanting. She says the other two sites are Womens Bay in Kodiak and one spot in the Ketchikan area.