ANALYSIS - In order to feed a rapidly growing population, there will need to be a greater focus on food farmed in the ocean. Kelp has been highlighted as a possible source due to its high nutrient quality and low input farming, writes Lucy Towers, TheFishSite Editor.
Speaking at a Gulf of Maine Reasearch Institute Sea State Lecture series, Paul Dobbins, from Ocean Approved, spoke about the potential of kelp farming and in particular, the farming of kelp in Maine, New England, USA.
Seaweed and kelp production currently represents 40 per cent of all the aquaulture production in the world, making it one of the largest farmed crops on earth.
Kelp is farmed in 28 coutries around the world, with the majority farmed in South Africa, Australia and Chile. There are also kelp farming industries in China, Japan and Korea where demand and consumtion of kelp is very high. The US currently brings in more seafood than it exports and, in terms of seaweed and kelp, the US imports around $700 million a year, meaning the US has the demand to justify building kelp farms.
Kelp is very popular as it is an excellent source of iodine, iron, fiber and calcium. Among its health benefits, eating kelp and seaweed has also being linked to low incidence of breast cancer.
On top of its excellent nutritional qualities, kelp is also fairly easy to farm as requires very little input or labour and does not use any freshwater, arable land or fertilizer. This makes it an ideal way to meet the growing demand for nutrious food. The farming of kelp itself
Kelp grows best in winter, in low light and low temperatures of around 52°F (11ºC), as it doesnt have to compete with micro-algae. Kelp is a macro-algae and so it does not have to compete with algae blooms in summer for nutrients.
Kelp feeds by absorbing nitrogen, phosphorus and CO2 from the water, making it good for the environment. Mr Dobbins stated that as Maine's bays have too much of these, kelp farming is also a good way to manage the state's coasts.
One challenge that Mr Dobbins did highlight to farming kelp in the US is the competion from lower cost kelp farming operations in China, but, as Maine has a good reputation for its seafood, the Maine brand is strong.