Kelp farming is becoming an increasingly popular eco-friendly alternative to fishing.
In the waters of Long Island Sound, off the coast of New York, rows of yellow and white buoys divide a broad expanse of ocean into quarters. Below the rough Atlantic waterline on which the buoys vigorously bob, an ecosystem of kelp, as well as oysters, mussels, and scallops, thrives (1). The Long Island kelp farm is one of many that have supplanted local fisheries as farmers reject environmentally detrimental practices and seek to bolster the ecosystems they cultivate.
One such farmer, Bren Smith, to whom 40 acres of the Long Island kelp farm belong, has witnessed firsthand the harmful practices of the fishing industry (2). In an interview with the nonprofit Future of Fish, he detailed his experience:
“I worked 30-hour shifts on factory trawlers that scrap[ed] the seafloor, ripp[ed] up entire ecosystems; fished illegally at night in protected waters; and [I] have personally thrown thousands of pounds of dead by-catch back into the sea,” he said (3).
Overfishing in the Northern Atlantic – propelled by destructive methods such as trawl fishing, in which fish are not only captured en masse, but marine habitats are bulldozed in the process – wrecks the biodiversity of the ocean. In the ocean, biodiversity and large organism populations are crucial in regulating atmospheric carbon (4). The Woods Hole Research Center in Falmouth, Massachusetts estimates that marine creatures intercept and store nearly 38,000 gigatonnes of carbon, making the oceans the largest carbon reservoir on earth (5). Thus, the maintenance of marine species is essential to mitigating climate change.
In search of an ecologically compatible alternative to the fishing industry, Bren Smith, along with his nonprofit organization GreenWave, pioneered what is termed “Regenerative Ocean Farming.” This groundbreaking system of aquaculture emits near zero carbon (3). In this model, kelp spores are planted in spools of grow line, which are strung between buoys. The crops mature from seedlings to their maximum height, which can be up to fifteen feet, in as few as six months, a relatively fast return (6). The kelp, after it is harvested, is transported to processing facilities to be transformed into a powdered ingredient. It can then be converted into consumable forms like burgers, linguini, and even cocktails (7).
For humans, the numerous benefits of kelp include diabetes control and prevention of anemia, as it contains ten times as many nutrients as plants grown in soil (8). For the environment, the untold benefits of kelp farming include the prevention of global warming, as kelp absorbs five times more carbon than land-based plants; the restoration of water quality, as kelp soaks in nitrogen; and the rebirth of marine communities, as kelp acts as an artificial reef which attracts over a hundred species to feed.
“The environmental effects [of kelp farming] are stunning,” Mr. Smith said. “I’m not just a fisherman; I’m a climate farmer. After a decade of farming, what was once a barren patch of ocean is now a robust ecosystem” (3).
- Shanahan, M. (2018, April 16). Three farmers will bring in kelp harvest from Fisher Island Sound this spring. The Day. Retrieved from
- Bren Smith’s Vertical Ocean Pasture, The Wave of Future Farming. (2020). FoodRepublic.com. Retrieved from https://www.foodrepublic.com/2014/11/17/bren-smiths-vertical-ocean-pasture-the-wave-of-future-farming/
- Smith, B. (2020). Bren Smith. Future of Fish. Retrieved from
- How does overfishing make climate change worse? (2020 August 6). Greenpeace.org.
Retrieved from https://www.greenpeace.org/aotearoa/story/how-does-overfishing-make-climate-change-worse/
- Balancing the Global Carbon Budget. (2007, January 16). Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences. Retrieved from https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev.earth.35.031306.140057
- Green-Gavrielidis, L. (2018, February 5) Nursery Phase: The Journey of Kelp From Spore to String to Sea. Retrieved from
- Selinger (2021 January 16). Why Isn’t Kelp Catching On?. The New York Times. Retrieved from
- Tello, C. (2021, September 9). 7 Health Benefits of Kelp. SelfDecode. Retrieved from
- Maine Grown Kelp: Opportunity & Impact (2020, October 27). Retrieved from
- Rusnak, P. (2018, August 22). Kelp wanted: not all farming deep dives require a shovel. Growing Produce. Retrieved from