PORTLAND, Maine — For the next two days, on Sept. 6-7, more than 300 people from all around the world involved in the seaweed industry will head to Portland for a conference. For the second consecutive year, Seagriculture USA will take place in Portland at the Westin Hotel.
The conference explores the vast potential of seaweed use as a food source, bioplastic, medicine, and sustainable model of economic development.
Maine is the largest producer of farmed kelp in the U.S. and has a broad history of wild seaweed harvesting. One of the reasons why Maine is hosting the conference is because the state is seen as a leader in the U.S. seaweed economy. There are over 40 farms across the coast, along with processors and producers, who are creating products and innovating new uses for seaweed. In 2022, Maine farmers harvested over one million pounds of kelp, which is a type of seaweed.
The conference is sponsored by the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD), Maine Technology Institute (MTI), Maine International Trade Center (MITC), and Maine Office of Tourism (MOT).
“Maine’s seaweed industry is experiencing tremendous growth, with farmers, producers, and researchers making contributions to this important economic sector," Heather Johnson, the commissioner of the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, said. “Seagriculture USA puts Maine on the world map as an innovator in seaweed farming and harvesting and brings industry leaders and investors to our state, where they can connect with the business supports and opportunities that can help them grow."
Industry leaders from the Netherlands, Norway, Kenya, South Korea, and other countries will spotlight the latest developments in the industry, including the use of technology to develop “smart seaweed farming.”
“Maine is already a leader in kelp farming and well positioned to be at the forefront of advanced processing of seaweed, which will allow the industry to scale up and bring high-value jobs to the Maine industry,” Brian Whitney, president of the Maine Technology Institute, said. “MTI is investing in Maine’s seaweed economy by offering grants, loans, and equity investments to companies that are innovators in the industry.”
According to the Maine Department of Marine Resources:
- Maine represents over 80 percent of the cultivated seaweed produced in the U.S. and is a leader in seaweed innovation.
- Kelp is an important species for some lobstermen who grow it in winter, which is the “off-season” for many.
- Rockweed represents approximately 90 percent of the total wild-caught seaweed in Maine.
- There are currently 134 licensed seaweed harvesters in Maine.
- In 2022, farmed seaweed landings (the amount reported by licensed aquaculturists) totaled 746,675 pounds and were valued at $539,070.
- Farmed seaweed species in Maine include kelp, dulse, and nori.
- Seaweed harvesters (wild caught) reported landings of over 13 million pounds in 2022.
- Combined, the landed value of farmed and wild-caught seaweed (2022) was $1.5 million.
Mitchell Lench is the founder and CEO of Ocean's Balance, a company based in Biddeford that focuses on making seaweed products and controls everything from the farming, harvesting, and dehydrating of the seaweed, to the making and selling of the products.
"[The conference] showcases what's going on in Maine, to show our farms, show our processing, but it also is a great exchange of ideas because things going on in Asia, they've been in seaweed hundreds of years, and we are still learning, so the exchange of ideas is really important at this stage of the market," Lench said.
Lench does say it's important to make sure Maine seaweed farmers have the markets to sell their seaweed and encourages Mainers to support any Maine businesses or products made from seaweed.
"Part of that is really creating markets for those products, it's not enough good to farm, you have to have markets. One of the areas we are very focused on is the ingredients market, so we dry seaweed, we sell it to some of the largest food manufacturers in the world, and now are interested in substituting out carbon-intensive ingredients for seaweed. The longer-term horizon is using seaweed as a replacement for plastics," Lench said.
Lench recently got a new dehydrator that he is using to dry his own seaweed and is willing to share his new machine with other agriculture leaders who hope to dry their crops.
"We basically purchased this because it was a big bottleneck in the industry, it can dry 30,000 wet pounds of seaweed a day. We are opening it up for other seaweed farmers and other seaweed companies to process, it's one of the newest additions in the industry for Maine," Lench said.
Lench said any companies or people interested in using his dehydrator can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Click here to learn more about this year's international seaweed conference.