- Associated Press - Saturday, April 29, 2017

KETCHIKAN, Alaska (AP) - Mariculture crews landed a disappointing first haul of planted seaweed recently near Ketchikan as part of an experiment on commercial kelp farming in the state.

The University of Alaska Southeast, a seaweed product specialist known as Blue Evolution and a handful of commercial kelp growers are collaborating on the effort, with one growing operation near Ketchikan and two sites at Kodiak Island, where the first harvest is expected to start May 4, according to project stakeholders.

Ketchikan’s Marble Seafoods owner Trevor Sande said his group planted kelp for the first time in November at his commercial oyster farm, Hump Island Oyster Co., and anticipated a harvest of about 50,000 pounds of seaweed.

As the harvest ended, Sande estimated only about 5,000 pounds of kelp had been secured.

“It wasn’t as dense as you need to make it viable,” he said of the yield. “Our yield is a fraction of what you need to be sustainable.”

Part of the issue, Sande said, is the operation got a late start for its first go around with kelp farming.

He said harsh weather also seemed to have ravaged the kelp, which essentially grew on a series of twine lines running from a beach to several offshore buoys. Sande will implement a beefier setup to better secure future kelp plantings, he said.

Meanwhile, Sande said he will travel in May to Kodiak Island to join a larger group of project stakeholders to see the first harvest there and fine tune other take-home lessons.

Tamsen Peeples of Blue Evolution said the California-based company aims to process the seaweed into a powder, and then create food products like seaweed pasta.

“This will be the first time we’ve had enough material to experiment with (in) our test kitchen,” Peeples said, “making some of those tasty recipes with the products we’re harvesting,”

She said Blue Evolution provided funding for UAS to bring aboard a new graduate student to study the natural life history of a type of kelp known as saccharina and to complete kelp-growth studies.

With $125,000 from Blue Evolution, the graduate student will work under UAS professor Michael Stekoll, according to Alaska Sea Grant.

Stekoll in November garnered a $418,000 grant from the National Sea Grant College Program, essentially “to address questions about cultivating seaweed at higher latitudes,” according to Alaska Sea Grant.

Being early in the development stages, commercial kelp farming in Alaska waters still has some bugs to work out, said Peeples, who is based at the UAS Juneau campus in space leased by Blue Evolution.

“It was a learning experience this year,” she said. “We’re all learning and growing as we get developed.”

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Information from: Ketchikan (Alaska) Daily News, https://www.ketchikandailynews.com

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