February 7, 2023
Meg Chadsey, WSG carbon specialist, talks with two emerging seaweed farmers on Vashon Island who have different approaches
By Andrea Richter-Sanchez, WSG Science Communications Fellow
Kelp aquaculture has many potential benefits to society. For example, it can provide habitat for marine life, decrease erosion along shorelines, absorb excess carbon dioxide and nutrients from the water, and provide food for local communities. As of now there is only one open water commercial seaweed farm in Washington — but the state may soon have its second and third.
A new video follows Meg Chadsey, Washington Sea Grant carbon specialist, as she visits two aspiring seaweed farmers who are nearing the end of the aquaculture permitting process; she learns about their exciting projects and helps them navigate through hurdles. Both of the farmers are named Mike — Mike Spranger and Mike Kollins — and they both hope to farm on Vashon Island. But they have different approaches to cultivation: one would be more focused on regenerative aquaculture and the other a traditional commercial farm.
“There are twenty-two different types of kelp in the Puget Sound area,” says Mike Kollins, founder of the Vashon Kelp Forest. “It is one of the most diverse kelp areas in the world.” Kollins plans to use a hybrid model that includes a restoration and cultivation component. Kollins’ farm has potential environmental benefits like restoring declining bull kelp beds. Kelp releases spores into the water where they are dispersed. Under the right conditions, the spores can settle in new areas, which Kollins hopes will restore the kelp beds near Blake Island and in the northern part of Vashon Island.
Co-owner of Pacific Sea farms, Mike Spranger is focused on cultivating sugar kelp for harvest.“There are challenges, but we have been getting a lot of help from organizations like Washington Sea Grant,” says Spranger. Blue Dot Sea Farms, the only current operating commercial seaweed farm in Washington, sells tasty kelp snacks generated from their kelp beds and Spranger plans to do something similar.
The process to get a permit approved for seaweed farming in Washington State is long, but for good reason. Marine farming has more complex regulation processes compared to terrestrial farming because the water is considered “the commons.” It is important that stakeholders such as tribes, local governments and the public are engaged in the permitting process. As Chadsey says, “Everybody should be able to learn what’s going on and have their say and feel satisfied when a permit is granted that the right thing is happening.”
Connecting the seaweed community with the information they need — and with each other — has become a focal point for WSG. For example, WSG has held seaweed-focused workshops and a symposium. Chadsey also coordinates the Washington Seaweed Collaborative. “We’re great at convening people, and we are doing that right now with the seaweed community in Washington State,” says Chadsey.
Washington Sea Grant, based at the University of Washington, helps people and marine life thrive through research, technical expertise and education supporting the responsible use and conservation of coastal ecosystems. The National Sea Grant College Program is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce.