R-14-01 Supporting Sea Vegetable Aquaculture in Maine

Susan Brawley
School of Marine Sciences
University of Maine
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Large marine algae—also known as seaweed and sea vegetables—have been harvested off the coast of Maine for use as food and fertilizer for centuries. Today, wild harvest isn’t enough to supply an increasing demand for sea vegetable products, prompting greater interest in seaweed aquaculture. In addition to cultivating new food products, people also want to grow seaweed around fish farms and wastewater treatment plants to help keep the water clean, and even for biomass energy production.

Despite research and development efforts over the past few decades, and even the nation’s first sea vegetable aquaculture company in Portland, Maine, the culture of native marine algae won’t expand or increase until several obstacles are overcome. Where do prospective seaweed farmers obtain “seed”? Do some strains or types of seaweed grow better than others? What are the best methods to grow kelp, nori, dulse, and sea lettuce? Etc.

Previous Sea Grant-funded research by Brawley isolated appropriate strains and growing conditions of purple laver or nori (Porphyra umbilicalis), but technology for implanting or “seeding” nets with immature algae still needs to be developed. This project focused on the final stages of Porphyra production, in addition to exploring culture of dulse (Palmaria palmata) and alaria (Alaria esculenta) in a newly established and MOFGA-certified organic nursery laboratory at the Center for Cooperative Aquaculture Research.

In 2017, with expertise developed in this and previous Sea Grant awards, Brawley provided 15,300 feet of lines seeded with kelp, alaria, and dulse to 8 sea farmers in Maine for testing. Industry partners include Maine Coast Sea Vegetables, Maine Mariculture, and Maine Fresh Farms.

Two-year project, 2014-2016
Total Sea Grant funds; $149,884