The seaweed industry stays afloat, seeking growth in times of pandemic

The pandemic of coronavirus has been a struggle for much of American seafood, but the seaweed industry of the industry has found a way to grow through the crisis.

Harvesting and farming seaweed, based largely on Maine’s rocky and cold coastline, has grown for several years as interest in food and nutritional products produced by the gooey sea algae has grown. Like many parts of the seafood industry, seaweeds are heavily dependent on the restaurant sector, which could be a major pandemic.

But that was not true, according to state records and members of the industry. Representatives for Atlantic Sea Farms, a Saco company that works with two dozen seaweed farmers and counts the majority of seaweed farming in the state, said it has almost doubled this year’s harvest to 450,000 pounds. .

Other growers said they would continue to harvest seaweed during the pandemic, although finding workers and buyers was more complicated than usual. The industry was able to sell more of its products through restaurant outlets, which meant that it avoided the problem of other seafood industries, such as the oyster industry, said Tollef Olson, president of the Maine Seaweed Council. .

“Almost every product we put out was made sustainable,” Olson said. “Some of the wholesale industry has certainly collapsed, but we are seeing more off-shelf space, and more online platforms. ”

The state harvest of seaweed raised on a farm in Maine grew from about 50,000 pounds in 2018 to about 275,000 pounds last year, state records show. Atlantic Farms alone estimates that its farmers will reap over 800,000 pounds by 2021.

The seaweed is processed into products such as seaweed sauerkraut and frozen kelp cubes for smoothies. The state seaweed industry also produces a wild harvest of seaweed, which is used for livestock feed and fertilizer.

The Maine pandemic hit around the same time as the spring harvesting season of the seaweed farming industry, said Bri Warner, chief executive of Atlantic Sea Farms. Industry members need to be busy getting seaweed products in new stores due to restaurant closures, and they have been extremely successful, she said.

“Four ounces of kelp in smoothie cubes is not the same as kelp on every salad in Sweetgreen that goes out the door. We’re very creative in how we sell, ”said Warner. “We feel very good about being able to overcome the storm. ”

The potential of the seaweed industry to grow during the pandemic is outside the U.S. seafood industry. Consumer demand for seafood at restaurants fell by more than 70% during the early months of the pandemic, which caused severe economic turmoil throughout the industry, according to one study published in the scientific journal Fish and Fish. Fisheries in November.

The seaweed industry is constrained by restrictions on the number of people who can work on farms, said Sarah Redmond, one of the owners of Springtide seaweed, a Gouldsboro grower. Growers often grow the seaweed underwater on ropes in bays, and it’s a lot of work.

However, the growth in people cooking at home, and looking to experiment with new ingredients, during the pandemic may have helped trade seaweed, Redmond said.

“We have seen an increase in demand for our seaweed products,” she said. “There is still a demand for healthy food and healthy ingredients.”