CULTIVATION OF KELP IN THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT
Shannon Kelly, Bureau of Aquaculture
Kelp is an exciting new farming venture in the Long Island Sound. There are kelp farms in, or proposed in, Greenwich, Stamford, Norwalk, Fairfield, Milford, Branford, Groton, and Stonington.
In Connecticut, licensing and permitting of kelp cultivation is the responsibility of the Connecticut Department of Agriculture (DoAg)’s Bureau of Aquaculture. Aquaculture by definition is the farming of fish, crustaceans, molluscs, aquatic plants, algae, and other organisms.
Like land plants, kelp, a type of seaweed, converts carbon dioxide into oxygen through photosynthesis and provides food and habitat for other marine organisms.
Kelp is also important to humans. Historically, it has provided food, minerals, medicine, and fertilizer, and it continues to do the same today.
Wild harvest makes up the majority of the seaweed industry, but an ever-increasing amount is produced from aquaculture, especially in China and South America. Kelp is the principal species of seaweed being aquacultured.
In the Northeast, including Connecticut, recent advancements in culture technologies have led to the development of a growing sugar kelp (Saccharina latissima) industry.
An excellent dietary source of fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, iron, calcium, magnesium, iodine, and other trace minerals, kelp can be used dried, powdered, fresh, cooked, and frozen.
In addition to being used as a food source or ingredient, kelp may have other uses in the future such as fertilizer, biofuel, animal feed, or cosmetic ingredients.
Similar to oyster and clam production, cultivation involves harvesting wild kelp blades ready to spawn and then inducing the spawning process in the hatchery/laboratory under controlled temperature, light, and nutrient conditions.
A reliable source of clean seawater is needed to provide the essential mineral components required for the kelp to spawn and attach to spools of thread.
Once the seed has set on the string it can be put out onto longlines in the Long Island Sound.
Kelp is a winter crop that grows from fall to spring. Much of the growth occurs in spring with increasing temperatures and light levels. It is usually “planted” in November or December and harvested in May. Horizontal lines must be removed from the water by June 1.
Because the Long Island Sound is a waterbody shared by many interests, and all must be able to safely use, share, and enjoy this invaluable resource, there is regulatory oversight involving multiple partnering agencies.
The use of any “structure” in the water column (i.e. bottom netting, bottom cage, hanging cage, floating bags, hatchery, upweller, or longline) requires an application submitted to DoAg, which is reviewed by DoAg, the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).
A Certificate of Operations is needed from DoAg. Other permits may also be needed from DEEP and the USACE before work associated with any structure can begin.
Because the kelp grows on longlines and fills vertical space in the water column, a DEEP Structures, Dredging and Fill permit is also needed.
The Boating Safety Division of DEEP requires danger/info buoys to be placed in the area where the aquaculture structures and mooring tackle are located to make boaters aware of the gear in the water column. Boaters need to stay away from the area so as not to become entangled in, or do damage to, the gear.
When the application is received by the USACE the federal agency coordination process begins because kelp gear could entangle birds and/or marine mammals.
NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service is consulted for both essential fish habitat and any endangered species.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is also consulted for endangered species, and the EPA Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act allows for the evaluation of potential impacts to fish and wildlife from proposed water resource development projects.
The initial “Public Interest Review” is where the USACE project manager assesses comments received and conducts an initial evaluation of the application including the likelihood of conflicts with marine resources and other public uses.
All of the above coordination processes must be completed before the USACE can issue an authorization for the kelp farm.