GOULDSBORO — Sarah Redmond is holding up a slimy, greenish-gray piece of seaweed.
“This is nori,” says Redmond. “This is what’s used in sushi, so it’s one of the more valuable types.”
Redmond, along with her business partner Trey Angera, runs Springtide Seaweed, the country’s largest organic seaweed farm, which is opening a new aquaculture facility in Gouldsboro this summer.
Springtide Seaweed operates a 30-acre seaweed farm in Frenchman Bay, along with a seaweed nursery and processing facility in Port Clyde. Redmond and Angera also helped found the Maine Seaweed Exchange.
Located in an old cannery, the Gouldsboro facility will serve as a aquaculture hub, containing a nursery along with space to process and sell harvested seaweed along with its byproducts.
“In Maine we have the traditional wild seaweed harvest industry that’s been around for a long time, but the seaweed aquaculture industry is newer, and we need to build up infrastructure for that,” says Redmond.
Approval for usage of the facility was approved by the town of Gouldsboro last month, and Redmond and Angera are currently establishing a seaweed nursery. They currently grow more than four different types of seaweed including kelp, nori, dulse and rockweed.
The seaweed starts as a spore in a tank or bucket. Water is pumped into the building from an adjoining lobster pound, and purified by electrolysis. As the spores grow, they attach themselves to spools of rope enclosed in plastic piping. Seaweed farmers take the spools out to their plots and attach them to buoys in the fall, then harvest in the spring.
“Each foot of rope can produce around 10 pounds of seaweed,” says Redmond.
Once the processing area is complete, seaweed farmers will be able to take their harvest to Gouldsboro, where it can be dried out and turned into a variety of products.
“There is the seaweed itself, then there are the value-added products,” says Angera. “Seaweed can be used as a thickening agent in foods, as a seasoning, in a variety of extracts, and as a fertilizer.”
Angera notes that as an organic fertilizer it is especially popular with wineries and golf courses.
As a winter crop, seaweed has minimal impact on lobstering and other shellfish industries, a fact that was noted by several Gouldsboro citizens who expressed support for the company at a selectmen’s meeting on July 12.
“There is incredible potential here because seaweed is so versatile, and as a resource we can cultivate from the ocean it is good for so many things,” says Redmond, also noting the environmental benefits of seaweed farming. “It really helps improve the quality of the water, because it naturally filters out nitrogen and carbon, and limits ocean acidification.”
Redmond estimates that there are currently around 20 to 30 seaweed farmers in Maine, but with the ability to process the crop that number may significantly increase.
“Right now there are very few places that you can produce seaweed products, and most people don’t have the resources to do it on their own,” Redmond said. “So having this piece of working waterfront that provides that really brings it all together.”
Angera adds that seaweed farming presents a great opportunity because “it’s low-input, doesn’t use a lot of energy, and isn’t gear intensive.”
Redmond says the relative ease of seaweed farming makes it a viable option for all sorts of people. Those interested can learn more at the Maine Seaweed Exchange’s Practical Seaweed Farmer Conference & Fair, which is being held in Rockland on July 27 and 28.