Maine’s cold, clear waters are an ideal environment to farm kelp. It acts as an underwater forest that absorbs carbon and nitrogen, as well as creates habitat for marine life. In many ways, it’s the perfect crop and a valuable tool to fight climate change.


A line of seaweed is hauled aboard a barge for harvesting off Cumberland. Maine, which harvested over 1 million pounds of kelp last year, is welcoming the international Seagriculture USA conference to Portland on Wednesday and Thursday. Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press, file

As the largest producer of farmed kelp in the U.S., and with a 50-year history in wild seaweed harvesting, Maine is seen as a leader in the U.S. seaweed economy. There are over 40 farms across the coast, and Maine farmers harvested over 1 million pounds of kelp in 2022.

On Wednesday and Thursday, Maine is welcoming the Seagriculture USA conference for a second year. This international seaweed innovation conference is bringing hundreds of people from across the globe to Portland to learn how Maine is building its sustainable aquaculture industry. It’s also an opportunity for Maine to learn best practices from other countries and states like Alaska.

In Maine, the current momentum is now carrying to the next level of the seaweed economy, with Maine companies positioned at the forefront of advanced processing of seaweed as a replacement for plastic packaging, as a mineral-rich food and in medicine and agriculture. It’s a model for sustainable economic development, and if we get it right, it can offer a vital new sector to the Maine economy with high-paying biotech jobs coupled with keeping traditional fisherwomen and fishermen working on the water.

There is a need to develop ways to grow and process larger volumes of cultivated seaweed. We’ve made a start by investing in the largest kelp dryer in North America, now operating out of Brunswick. This state-of-the-art machine can process up to 30,000 pounds of seaweed a day. A shared model makes the dehydrator available to all kelp farmers and companies, giving them the ability to get more value from their kelp.

Seaweed is increasingly being included in human and pet food, animal feed, supplements, cosmetics and more. There are also startup companies in Maine that are now moving that kelp into the lab, and they are producing plastic alternatives, PFAS substitutes and plant biostimulants that improve nutrient uptake, quality and yield. Maine’s economic development organizations, including the Maine Technology Institute, are actively investing in Maine’s seaweed economy by offering grants, loans and equity investments to companies that are innovators in the industry, but we can do more.

Maine can stay on top of this important, emerging industry – we have a vast coastline, committed companies, top-tier research and educational institutions, and innovators looking to seaweed not just as a value-add but also an integral part of Maine’s blue economy. But we need to recognize that the seaweed revolution is taking off with or without us.

The economic implications for Maine is a decidedly important part of this story, but the bigger picture is the impact seaweed can have on our climate. It goes well beyond the carbon that is sequestered by growing seaweed. Seaweed will obviously not solve the climate crisis, but it could help sustainably feed people and animals, replace plastics, decarbonize the economy, rebuild marine ecosystems, and provide high-tech and replace disappearing marine jobs.

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